7 Current Protests Keeping the Labor Movement Alive in 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed many truths about society at large. One such revelation involves how employers are treating their employees during this difficult time. Right now, the American worker is battling staff shortages and inventory shortages due to the pandemic. For all their hard work, you’d think they’d be rewarded with hazard pay, promotions and raises for keeping the lights on, especially as many businesses struggle.

Instead, workers are experiencing the opposite: many of them are being exploited and abused. While we may never know the full extent of worker mistreatment going on all over the world, there are labor movements working to shine a light on many of these injustices.

With many companies experiencing labor shortages, the American laborer has not had this much power in quite some time. Now is a great time to present a case for better work conditions, and these six ongoing labor protests are proving it.

Blackout Black Friday 

Could organizers on Reddit create the next great labor movement? A subreddit with more than a million members is trying to make that happen. In response to low wages, unethical working conditions, and poor benefits, people are banning together online from a distance. A recent action of theirs includes the Black Friday Blackout. You too can support the cause by staying home this Friday. No working, no shopping, just focus on family and reclaim your time. That doesn’t sound like a bad way to spend a Friday. 

Black Friday has been notoriously harsh on working people. Stores have opened earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving Day. People who typically work during the days are expected to work through the night. Black Friday can also bring out shopping practices that are competitive and destructive. Many workers won’t be able to participate because they need the income and don’t want to risk losing their jobs. Showing solidarity can be the best gift you can give to others this holiday season.   

Amazon Workers Strike in Italy

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Amazon as a company is no stranger to labor protests. What’s inspiring about the Amazon workers protesting in Italy is that 75% of the warehouse workers joined the strike. That huge number suggests that the working conditions really must be worth speaking out about. Many of the workers that joined the strike were only employed temporarily and risked losing their jobs by showing up, but the issue was that important.

As a company, Amazon has not been supportive of unionization. The Global Union Alliance has had to speak out against anti-union rhetoric brought about by Amazon itself. This probably won’t be the last inspiring protest organized by Amazon workers in 2021.

No Justice, No Chips: The Frito Lay Factory Workers’ Strike

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In Topeka, Kansas, workers at a Frito-Lay factory are saying “no” to horrific conditions. For three weeks, workers spoke out about the conditions at the factory. There were reports of 12-hour shifts and a severe lack of time off. One worker shared that he worked three months straight without a single day off. According to DemocracyNow, the factory had no air conditioning and reached triple-digit temperatures over the summer.

Many labor protests end without compromise, but the folks at Frito-Lay were able to settle on a solution — for now. Workers signed a contract that would give each employee one week off per year and a raise of 4%. Workers have pointed out that this is not their ideal solution, but the conversation remains ongoing.

Fighting for 15: Fast-Food Workers Rise Up 

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In the final week of July, fast-food workers in 10 cities across the country participated in demonstrations for higher wages. The Fight for $15 Movement started in 2012 and has been controversial since its inception. There are people who believe that fast-food labor is unskilled labor, which means, in their view, it’s undeserving of higher wages. But, as $15 minimum wages become the norm in cities like Seattle and San Francisco, people are wondering why it’s taking so long for wage increases across the board.

In this particular protest, fast-food workers in Apex, North Carolina blocked a highway in order for their message to be heard. They passed a McDonald’s sign along the way that said they needed help and were hirng on the spot. If businesses are experiencing labor shortages, higher wages could help fill those vacancies.

Justice for Janitors

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“Front line workers” have been instrumental in helping us navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, “front line workers” equates to doctors, nurses, and (sometimes) grocery store workers. But custodians and other sanitation workers who keep everybody safe from disease by keeping spaces clean have been left out of the conversation for months. All over, janitors are uniting to say, “enough is enough.”

On March 13, 2021, more than 700 custodians in San Francisco walked off their jobs to gather and express grievances. Despite the demand for janitors, many were laid off during the pandemic. Those that kept their jobs had to perform extra cleaning duties to uphold COVID-19 safety protocols and, with fewer team members, had less support than ever. After all, Bay Area companies like Salesforce, Facebook and Google need clean spaces to work in, and the “Justice for Janitors” movement helps express that.    

In a strong display of solidarity, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) started Justice for Janitors Day, which is observed on June 15 every year. Of the custodians that have joined the SEIU, 59% have been able to negotiate wages that exceed $15 per hour. We love seeing this cause supported on multiple fronts!

Alabama Coal Miners Bring Strike to Big City

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In 2016, an Alabama coal mine went bankrupt. A company called Warrior Met Coal took over operations at the mine — and quality of life for the mine’s workers declined. Under the guise of keeping the mine afloat, workers took pay cuts, averaging $6 a person. Conditions have only gotten worse for the miners since then. As a result, over 1,000 miners have been a part of an ongoing strike that started in March of 2021.  

According to the union the miners formed, the money that has been taken by Warrior Met tops $1.1 billion (via Labor Notes). The miners last went on strike in 1989. One striker mentioned to Labor Notes that miners have always had to fight for their rights. The job itself comes with unique, grueling challenges, so they should be compensated for that.

This strike has even grabbed the National Labor Relations Board‘s attention, so Warrior Met Coal may be held accountable at the federal level. The miners did not know three months ago that their efforts would reach this point, but their resilience may pay off.

2,500 Strong: The 18-Day Strike in Chicago

In Cook County, more than 2,500 city workers joined together. The people on strike consisted of custodians, social workers, lab techs, and other employees. While deals had been in the works for better wages since 2019, it wasn’t until laborers kicked off an 18-day strike in June of 2021 that progress was really made. The 18-day strike was the longest ever held by public workers in the Chicago area.

The SEIU Local 73 Union represents more than 30,000 people who work in public service. Thanks to the efforts in Cook County, they were able to work out an 8.5% raise for the 2.500 city workers who were on strike. However, that deal is only good for four years. Solutions like that remind us that labor is an ongoing conversation at best. Unionizing and organizing might be hard and risky, but doing so can help change your life and the livelihoods of countless others.  

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