With Black organizers playing prominent roles in a surge of union drives, a new coalition has come together to fight for policy changes that would also build Black worker power.
The Black Worker Policy Coalition includes We Dream in Black/National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Mothering Justice, local worker centers from Las Vegas to Miami, and other Black-led worker-focused organizations. Their new policy agenda, a Black Worker Bill of Rights, addresses critical issues in the job market and the workplace to ensure that all Black workers have dignity at work with safe, healthy, and equitable job conditions.
“Black workers built this country and have kept it running during the COVID-19 pandemic despite disproportionate risks to our health,” said Tanya Wallace-Gobern, Executive Director at National Black Worker Center, at the coalition launch on May 2. “While employers praise us in the spotlight as heroes and essential workers, they sacrifice our safety and dignity behind warehouse doors to boost their profits.”
The coalition has identified ten rights that must be meaningfully reflected in the law and enforced. While these rights would benefit all U.S. workers, the coalition argues they are particularly critical to address the systemic racism faced by the country’s 20 million Black workers. These rights include:
- The Right to Organize
- The Right to Resources and Information to Address Barriers to Quality Employment
- The Right to Assert Your Rights and Have Your Rights Enforced
- The Right to Equitable Wages and Compensation that is Owed
- The Right to Career Advancement Opportunities
- The Right to Workplaces Free from Discrimination, Harassment, and Other Harm
- The Right to Health, Healing, and Rest
- The Right to Privacy and Freedom from Surveillance
- The Right to Dignity
- The Right to Participate in Democracy
The primary goal of the campaign is to close the numerous loopholes in anti-discrimination and labor law that allow employers to continue to treat Black workers unfairly. Domestic work, for example, has historically been excluded from longstanding labor protections due to its roots in slavery. Over half of all domestic workers are Black women who earn on average just $12 an hour.
“Even today, domestic work is burdened with the legacy of racist exclusions from many of the basic labor protections afforded other workers,” said Allison Julien, Director of the We Dream in Black Program of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. “The poor standards facing our workforce are a lens into the reality of work for Black women, many of whom work in other service sector jobs defined by low pay, lack of benefits, and lack of regulation.”
The call for a Black Worker Bill of Rights has never felt more urgent, especially as Black organizers are at the forefront of the current resurgent labor movement. They have been leading the historic union campaign at an Amazon warehouse in deep red, anti-union Alabama, where fully 85 percent of the workforce is Black. After a revote earlier this year, unions have once again charged that Amazon illegally interfered with the voting process.
In New York, Black organizer Chris Smalls led the first successful union drive at a U.S. Amazon facility after the company fired him for his activities and made him a target of the retail giant’s smear campaign against the union drive.
Harassment, too, plagues Black workers on the job. This is particularly true for Black workers in the service industry, who during a global pandemic, were tasked with enforcing public health measures while depending on tips to make a living wage. A February 2022 report by One Fair Wage found that during the pandemic, Black tipped workers reported higher levels of
hardship than their white counterparts, particularly a higher level of decline in their tips and greater retaliation from customers for attempting to enforce COVID-19 protocols than their white counterparts. As a result, Black tipped workers have left the restaurant industry at nearly three times the rate of their white counterparts.
Systemic racism is present in every aspect of our society, especially in the workplace. It will take bold policy proposals to undo decades worth of exclusion and build an economy that works for everyone. Fighting for Black Worker Bill of Rights is just the start.
“From warehouses to board rooms, from the Deep South to Silicon Valley, we face discrimination in hiring, promotions, treatment, and pay,” Gobern added. “We already know that the current economy, which is built on structural racism, isn’t working. This is why we demand a Black Worker Bill of Rights to undo the legacy of racism and intergenerational poverty.”