Fast-food workers, care givers, and store employees in hundreds of cities across the country walked off the job Tuesday demanding a $15-an-hour minimum wage and union rights.
In Oakland, labor movement leaders united with the Bay Area’s Black Lives Matter chapter to protest the unwillingness of Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley to drop criminal charges against the Black Friday 14, who in an act of civil disobedience shut down the West Oakland BART station in November of last year to protest the murders of Black people by police.
The 14 protesters are facing charges of trespassing and obstructing the free passage of a railway.
As hundreds of union workers rallied in front of the DA’s office on Tuesday, 14 leaders of several labor organizations staged a sit-in inside O’Malley’s office – including representatives of UNITE HERE Local 2850, SEIU Local 1021 and AFT Local 2121.
The Pastors of Oakland have also called for the charges Black Friday 14 to be dropped.
“Unions in particular are disappointed with the prosecution of the Black Friday 14 because we’d given support to O’Malley during her election,” said Sarah Norr, Operations Manager for UNITE HERE Local 2850.
“We were hopeful that she would be someone who stands up for justice, but instead she is using her position to prosecute people who are standing up for justice,” said Norr.
Last year, on Black Friday – the largest shopping day of the year – the 14 Black Lives Matter protestors chained themselves to a BART train in West Oakland as a way to show solidarity with the movement in Ferguson, Mo. and to protest state violence against people of color in the Bay Area.
Since then, BART has announced it would not be pursuing charges against the protestors but left it up to O’Malley to continue if she pleased.
“Our intention was to disrupt business as usual, to stop the flow of the economy on Black Friday and we chose West Oakland BART because of what it has represented in terms of displacement of the Black community in Oakland,” said Robbie Clark, a member of Causa Justa: Just Cause and one of the Black Friday 14.
According to Clark, there is a clear connection between the labor movement and racial justice. Whether Black people are paid fairly for their labor is tied to the difficulty they have had in accumulating and retaining wealth ever since they were enslaved.
Norr of UNITE HERE 2850 also pointed out that 90 percent of the people in her union are Black or Latino, and that they face a “double attack because they are subject to police violence and unequal treatment in the courts plus displacement because they can’t afford rents in the Bay Area.”
In May, DA O’Malley was scheduled to receive an award from the Alameda Labor Council at an awards dinner but was uninvited and not given the award because of her handling of the Black Friday 14 case, said Norr.
“We are telling Nancy O’Malley that if she has any aspirations to continue to run for office and she does not do right by the BART 14, we as labor are not going to let her get elected. We’re going to stand in her way,” said Denise Solis of SEIU USWW, who was one of those who occupied O’Malley’s office.
Following the rally at the D.A.’s office, the protestors marched to Oakland City Hall where they joined nearly a thousand union workers and labor movement leaders from across the Bay Area, demanding an increase in the minimum wage to $15-an-hour.
“While brave workers across the country are standing up and demanding $15 and a union, we need to demand racial justice,” said Solis. “They are one in the same, it’s the same fight, it’s the same communities being affected, and we are not going to stop until we all have the rights that we deserve.”