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Colorado Workers Join Nationwide Protests Against Racial Injustice

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Dozens of janitors, security officers and health care workers knelt in silence in Denver Monday to honor George Floyd and to participate in a nationwide protest against racial injustice.

About three dozen masked workers gathered under trees in front of the Kaiser Permanente Franklin medical offices for an 8 minute and 46 second moment of silence that took place across the U.S. to commemorate the death of Floyd. It was the amount of time prosecutors say a white Minneapolis police officer held his knee on Floyd's neck.

Most participants wore purple T-shirts representing the Service Employees International Union, which organized the event. Signs held by participants said "Home care workers we care for black lives" and "CWA (Communications Workers of America) strong against racism."

Dubbed the "Strike for Black Lives," the national protest was organized by labor unions and social and racial justice organizations, with events in more than two dozen U.S. cities.

The events emphasized that essential workers of color face discrimination in the workplace, at the hands of police and in the coronavirus pandemic that disproportionately affects people of color. SEIU Local 105 represents more than 8,000 Colorado health care, property service and airport workers.

Ray "Skip" Miller, president of Colorado Workers for Innovative and New Solutions Local 1876, a union representing 28,000 state employees, said members want better access to personal protective equipment and increased compensation for workers in situations where their health is at risk because of the coronavirus.

"There's been this talk about, you know, essential workers but these are workers that weren't essential until COVID showed up," Miller said. "All of a sudden now they're essential and before they were just low-wage workers."

As part of Monday's events, Colorado union workers held a Facebook "#StrikeForBlackLives" town hall with Democratic state Rep. Leslie Herod, who represents north Denver and has sponsored legislation on police accountability.

"I'm a queer black woman. My sister has been in and out of the criminal justice system for about 30 years," Herod said. "My brother is a doctor in the navy who still gets pulled over because he drives a nice car in a nice neighborhood. It's important that we bring those perspectives to the table so we can have real conversations about real solutions that can change the way our society interacts with each other."

The strikers' agenda included a call for action by corporations and government to confront systemic racism and economic inequality that limits mobility and career advancement for many Black and Hispanic workers, who make up a disproportionate number of those earning less than a living wage.

They also called for raising low wages and allowing workers to unionize to negotiate better health care, sick leave and child care support.

"True justice and real reform will only be achieved when people who look like me are part of the conversation to fix this system," said Carla Woods, a Black correctional officer in Denver.

Ernest Higgs, a security officer, said institutional change isn't enough.

"I believe the biggest change has to come from people's hearts," he said. "People need to be willing to look inside themselves."

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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