This is a slightly edited version of a talk given at the Workers World Party Sept. 10 webinar, “Workers Defend Black Lives.” View webinar at tinyurl.com/y6m9z593.
In and around Atlanta, labor unions have been connecting the issues of labor to racial justice. Unions are recognizing that issues of labor and racial justice are inseparable and are taking action to link the issues.
The United Campus Workers of Georgia, part of the larger CWA (Communication Workers of America), have been holding demonstrations and getting the word out to the public through different media, connecting the return to school to the current crisis of racism.
On Aug. 6, UCWGA members and supporters held a die-in outside the University of Georgia in Athens before the school opened. The protest was directed at the University System of Georgia (USG), which has forced all its institutions, which are public universities, to return to school in person.
As union members were expressing their righteous outrage, an open records request [from a Georgia Tech student] exposed that Corvias, a company operating the university dorms, wanted students to go back to school and fill dorms to full capacity. (tinyurl.com/y2kmdbhj)
The company acknowledged quite openly in the media that it was not following any of the guidelines to protect against COVID. The company simply did not want to lose any money from dorms closing down! [If Georgia State had opened its dorms at 75% capacity, Corvias would have lost $3.1 million over the school year, according to the Aug. 7 Georgia Recorder.]
Furthermore, the University System of Georgia lost millions when coronavirus forced schools to close down in March. Now, while Georgia is one of the hot spots in the nation for COVID, USG has made students and workers return to school in person in the middle of the pandemic.
This past July, UCWGA released a statement honoring the memory of Ana Cabrera Lopez, a 32-year-old Latina woman who worked in service and maintenance at UGA. Lopez, who died of COVID-19 this summer, reportedly had said, before she became sick, that she was scared to work on campus.
As UCWGA members protested, they made sure to call out the fact that COVID is disproportionately affecting Black and Brown workers and that those workers not only include professors, but also janitors, maintenance workers, dining hall workers, student workers within dorms, teaching assistants and many more.
At USG institutions, the majority of people working maintenance and janitorial positions are Black and Brown people and women. As protests continue, the union makes sure to emphasize that when maintenance people are sent in to clean, in order to follow CDC guidelines, UGS is sending in Black and Brown people — workers — to die.
As if the threat of death was not enough, Kennesaw State University laid off 24 university employees just a week before school started. The KSU chapter of UCWGA was quick to release the information to the public, emphasizing that the president, who makes half a million dollars a year, did not take a pay cut. Instead, Black and Brown people and women — the lowest-paid janitors and staff members — were fired in the middle of the pandemic.
The union continues to be on a “No-Layoffs” campaign, releasing videos to the public and trying to get the word out through the press and protests. The union proposes that the president and those making the most money take pay cuts.
The UCWGA at KSU has been strongly emphasizing that when the university fires people, it is unnecessarily firing people from marginalized backgrounds — those who are suffering most already from the health and economic crisis.