Fledgling service workers union leads job action

Protests mark anniversary of MLK Jr.’s assassination in April 1968
Members of the Union of Southern Service Workers and supporters protest against unsafe working conditions outside of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in Downtown Atlanta Tuesday, April, 4 2023. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Members of the Union of Southern Service Workers and supporters protest against unsafe working conditions outside of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in Downtown Atlanta Tuesday, April, 4 2023. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Members of a fledgling union for low-wage workers took to the street Tuesday in three Southeastern cities to protest unsafe conditions and insufficient pay to mark the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

In Atlanta, about 50 members of the Union of Southern Service Workers chanted, held posters, listened to speeches and talked about their own complaints in front of the offices of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a federal agency responsible for workplace safety.

Union members also gathered in Durham, N.C. and in Columbia, S.C.

In an interview, Gerald Green said he was making $14.75 an hour as a cook at a Tift County Waffle House after five years on the job and several promotions.

“I got involved in the labor movement because I’ve seen how bad things have gotten for some people who are barely surviving,” he said. “If I didn’t have family support, I would probably be living on the street.”

He said he loves the job and his co-workers, but believes management doesn’t appreciate what they have.

“The people who work at Waffle House are good people — some of the kindness, hardest-working people, most generous people I’ve ever met,” Green said. “But the company needs to treat people better.”

The action Tuesday was intended to link current union efforts to the final days of King in April, 1968. who had gone to Memphis in April 1968 to support striking workers, said Inez O’Donnell, a union organizer. “He was there to support sanitation workers when he was killed.”

Adam Shepherd came up from Mobile to attend the demonstration. He said he works eight to 10 hours most days as an Uber driver, where his income is erratic, and three days a week as a $9-an-hour cashier at the large hotel.

Without roommates, he’d be hard-pressed to pay the rent. Besides the pay, another problem is safety on the job because drivers are sometimes threatened, he said.

The action Tuesday was intended to link current union efforts to the final days of King in April, 1968, when he went to Memphis to support striking workers, said Inez O’Donnell, a union organizer. “He was there to support sanitation workers when he was killed.”

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