The fight for increased benefits and protections for essential workers continues. On Friday May 1st, workers from Amazon, Whole Foods, Instacart, Target and Shipt will be executing a coordinated strike aimed to force their employers’ to offer better health benefits, personal protective equipment and hazard pay. The strike is set to take place on International Workers’ Day, also known as May Day.
The May Day strike is one of the largest coordinated, non-union strikes in recent history. Strikers are hoping that this effort will finally get an adequate response from their employers. Representatives of the cross-company strike emphasized the gravity of the situation in a joint statement when they said, “Our companies have failed us in these unprecedented times … This is a matter of life or death.”
How this Historic Strike was Organized by Employees, Not Unions
The May Day strikers had to overcome a series of obstacles in order to organize this unprecedented, cross-company strike. There are no unions for the employees of the companies involved, this means that strikers had to reach a critical breaking point as there were no intermediaries looking out for their best interests.
Workers were left to their own devices when it came to organizing the May Day strike. Employees from each of the companies came together via social media in order to plan a coordinated protest that will get the attention of their respective companies’ executives. The online workers groups did not develop overnight, but they gained serious momentum during the struggles workers have been facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The online groups decided to come together for a coordinated effort after their independent protests were largely ignored. Amazon did little except firing the leader of the Staten Island Fulfillment Center walk out. That employee, Chris Smalls, has since been rehired after Amazon faced critical backlash.
Smalls explained the thought process behind the May Day Strike in a conversation with Motherboard. “It’s more powerful when we come together,” said Smalls, “We formed an alliance between a bunch of different companies because we all have one common goal which is to save the lives of workers and communities. Right now isn’t the time to open up the economy.”
Target Employees Join the May Day Strike
Target employees joined the striking efforts after they were pushed to the brink by what they perceive as customers not taking social distancing guidelines seriously.
On the Target Workers Unite website, they said, “At Target the foot traffic and guest behavior have been atrocious, putting us at needless risk when greater safety measures are required to ensure social distancing. Workers nor guests have been required to wear masks.
Our maximum capacity of guests have been set too high, their demeanor is also casual and reckless. They do not respect our space, they are not coming to our stores exclusively for essential items, but are occupying our stores out of boredom and for fun.
The guests’ desire for recreation are not more important than team members’ needs for safety. Our pay and compensation are not adequate enough to cover the costs of hospitalization or funeral expenses related to COVID19.”
May Day Strikers Are Not Alone
The May Day Strikers are not alone in their fight for employee safety and compensation. Fast food workers across the country went on strike in early April, as did General Electric employees at four factories and employees of a Barnes and Noble Warehouse in New Jersey.
Labor news outlet, Payday Reports, has been one of the few outlets that has been diligently documenting the various strikes across the country that are fighting for increased benefits and protections for essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The outlet has compiled a Google map that has kept track of the 150 plus strikes that have taken place.
You may be surprised to see just how many strikes have taken place. You may also be unaware of the strikes that have taken place in your area. The lack of reporting on the issue has left many of these essential workers fighting an even tougher up-hill battle. The myriad companies that have put their employees in a position where they need to take action shows how woefully underpaid essential workers are.
If you want to help them gain the protections and compensation they deserve, you need to be clear about your support. Vanessa Bain, a leader of striking Instacart employees, made clear the way that you can voice your support the loudest. She said, “To consumers, we’re saying: ‘Don’t buy from these companies on May 1. Don’t empower them with your dollars.’ That’s what we need for an effective general strike.”
In addition to the one-day boycott, taking to social media will definitely help. Using #MayDay hashtags to raise awareness of the issues that essential employees continue to face during this pandemic will be especially important on May 1st as the “Reopen America” faction are planning several large rallies on the same day. Instead of breaking social distancing recommendations and counter protesting, you can make your point very clearly using the internet and your wallet.