July 14, 2020

Tens of thousands join lunchtime vigils demanding justice and reform.

walkout1.jpg1199SEIU members from Upstate New York to South Florida held a union wide lunchtime walkout on June 11 to demand police reform and justice for victims of police violence. During the walkout, tens of thousands of workers gathered outside their facilities and took a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on George Floyd’s neck and suffocated him to death.

The actions are part of a global movement that was sparked by Floyd’s death that have brought tens of millions into the streets calling for re-structuring of police funding and a broader conversation about racism and its roots in American culture.

“We have had this problem for so long and it’s been ignored. We’ve heard speeches forty and fifty years ago about the same things that are happening today. Everyone is starting to opening their eyes now, but Black and Brown people have always known we are targeted and profiled,” said Ruben Borrero, an environmental service worker at NY-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan.

“Now we are seeing what is happening and this is a different moment. This is not just about proving a point, it’s about making a change because there is a serious problem with how the police treat people in communities of color.”

walkout2.jpgThe walkouts ranged in size from a handful of people to hundreds. In many instances, workers were joined by allies in hoisting signs memorializing George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician who was shot to death by Louisville, KY police officers who failed to identify themselves while executing a notorious “no-knock” warrant in the middle of the night. The police officers who killed Ms. Taylor have yet to be arrested or charged.

Janis Westbrook, a CNA at Rosewood Health and Rehab Center in Orlando, FL, brought her grandchildren to the walkout.

“I felt so powerful and not alone. I had my grandkids with me. I wanted to let them see. They are from two to twelve years old. It was very powerful,” she said.

walkout3.jpg1199SEIU President George Gresham joined members at Manhattan’s NY-Presbyterian, the facility where he started his healthcare career, at their walkout. After taking a knee with workers and allies, Gresham reminded the severalhundred-strong crowd to hold on to the energy of the moment.

“This cannot conclude until we know that the next generation is not going to go through the struggles that we have gone through,” said Gresham. “We must stay united until we have equal justice for all.”

1199 Magazine | May / June 2020