On July 20, tens of thousands of Americans in 25 cities will stage a massive work stoppage to demand that corporations and the government confront systemic racism and police brutality.
The strike will engage many traditional blue-collar workers who have led the labor union movement in the United States for decades, including teachers, janitors, nursing home staff, and security guards. But non-union workers at the country’s largest tech companies, including Amazon, Google, Uber, Lyft, and Postmates, who are in the midst of an unprecedented wave of rank-and-file mobilization, have also pledged to participate.
Motherboard spoke to a Lyft driver, Google engineer, and Amazon warehouse worker about their respective decisions to participate in the Strike for Black Lives on July 20. The workers cited the companies’ recent track records of exploiting Black workers during the pandemic, and supplying police with technologies that target BIPOC communities as a critical part of their decision to strike.
Google, Amazon, Uber, and other tech giants have collectively donated millions of dollars to Black civil rights organizations and published statements condemning racism in recent weeks, as they continue to deny Black and brown workers basic workplace protections and sell their technologies to agencies that surveil and police BIPOC.
In Los Angeles, Uber, Lyft, and Postmates gig workers will join striking fast food and nursing home workers on July 20 in a car caravan with stops at the Los Angeles Unified School District’s headquarters and the University of Southern California to demand that the schools sever ties with the Los Angeles Police Department.
“Uber and Lyft rely on predatory business models that trap people of color into them,” Jerome Gage, a Lyft driver in Los Angeles, who is organizing drivers to participate in the strike, told Motherboard. “You’ll find many immigrants and people of color driving Uber and Lyft without proper benefits or access to unemployment during the pandemic. I think our needs as drivers are inseparable from the Black Lives Matter Movement.”
During the pandemic, Lyft donated $500,000 in ride credit to the Black civil rights organizations, including National Urban League, the NAACP, and the Black Women’s Roundtable. Uber—for its part—pledged to offer free food delivery for orders placed to Black-owned restaurants through the end of 2020.
But rideshare drivers say those gestures aren’t reaching them.
Gage, who is Black, told Motherboard that during the early months of the pandemic, his wages on Lyft plummeted to the point that he was earning below California’s $15 an hour minimum wage. Now, with COVID-19 cases on the rise again, he fears that drivers in Los Angeles will see another dip in earnings, but without easy access to unemployment benefits or paid sick leave, workers without savings will have to continue working and risk exposing themselves and their communities to the virus. In Los Angeles county, Black and Latino residents have twice the mortality rate from COVID-19 as white residents.
“When you feel you’re sick there’s no back up plan,” said Gage. “This was an issue before COVID-19 but it has really amplified the damage done to communities of color.”
Chewy Shaw, one of the lead organizers of Google Workers Against Racism, a group which formed in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, has also pledged to participate in the strike and is organizing his coworkers to join in. In a petition on June 22 signed by more than 2,000 employees, his group demanded that Google stop selling its technology to police departments.
Shaw, who has worked as a software engineer at Google for seven years, told Motherboard that he is striking both because of Google’s role in policing communities of color and his personal experience as a Google employee.
“I am Black and I feel that systemic racism has impacted me here at Google,” he told Motherboard. “It takes the average person two years to get a promotion but it took me five years. I often feel like I have to do three times the amount of work as my coworkers. Getting to a place where I feel supported, and now having the [BLM] movement, has had a strong positive effect on me.”
Amazon warehouse workers will also participate in the July 20 strike. In recent weeks, the e-commerce giant has showered its platforms in banners and posts supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, even programming Alexa to say: “Black lives matter. I believe in racial equality.”
Yet, at the same time, the company has fired at least four workers—all of whom were Black– who have organized for safer working conditions during the pandemic.
“The overwhelming majority of workers in Amazon warehouses like myself are people of color, but few of Amazon’s managers are,” said Courtenay Brown, a warehouse worker at an Amazon fulfillment center in Avenel, New Jersey. “Even though rates of COVID-19 infection are higher in Black and Brown communities, Amazon still continues to risk our lives in the name of profit. Amazon has no business tweeting its support for Black lives when it is actively involved in harming Black people, including Black workers and our families. That is why we are taking action on July 20.”
Strikes and protests will take place in Los Angeles, Detroit, Oakland, Minneapolis, Ferguson, Missouri, Seattle, Chicago, and Houston, among other cities.