PISCATAWAY, N.J. (June 3, 2020) – Black workers face overlapping challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide protests surrounding the police killing of George Floyd. Workplace experts in the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations are available for interview about racism and work; economic insecurity; the historical context of today’s unrest; and the role of labor leaders and managers.
Tamara Lee, assistant professor in Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, studies the intersection of labor and racial justice.
Lee said, “Racism and classism are interlocking, anti-black systems of oppression. The thing about systemic anti-blackness is that the entire world expects black workers to labor through hashtag after hashtag as if the systemic police killings of black people were just a minor inconvenience, like a printer temporarily out of black ink. To be a black essential worker during a pandemic whose fatality rate feeds off societal discrimination is to be modern-day chattel property prodded by the whips of capitalism.”
Naomi R Williams, assistant professor in the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, studies social movements and working-class activism.
Williams said, “The brutal and shocking events of the last few weeks underscore the persistence of anti-black racism in the United States. The killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor come amid three months of black people contracting and dying disproportionately from COVID-19. Black workers are over-represented in front-line, low-wage service jobs. They are facing increased levels of unemployment, homelessness, and other markers of economic insecurity. People are risking their lives during a pandemic by protesting, for justice.”
Christopher Hayes, urban historian in the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, is the author of a forthcoming book about the 1964 police killing of a black teenager and the protests that followed.
Hayes said, “Derek Chauvin squeezing the life out of George Floyd is but the most vulgar and recent manifestation of how our society devalues black life. The other ways are much less spectacular – residential segregation, poverty, limited opportunities, low-quality education and inequality in nearly every measurable index – and are always there, until a trauma too great to bear ignites it. This is an American problem that has endured across the centuries, and one that we continually refuse to meaningfully address.”
Sheri Davis, senior program director in the Rutgers Center for Innovation in Worker Organization, co-directs WILL Empower (Women Innovating Labor Leadership).
Davis said, “Black women labor leaders and workers sit at the intersection of a pandemic, white racism, and the state and interpersonal violence of patriarchy. The future of labor depends on what leaders do in this moment to denounce white supremacy and racialized capitalism in all forms. Acknowledge that white people, culture, and institutions are perpetrators or oblivious and complicit. Do the difficult work of taking risks as whistleblowers. Use your power and position to repair past wrongs and disrupt historically harmful policies and practices.”
Kyra Leigh Sutton, an HR expert in the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, specializes in workplace diversity, the inter-generational workforce, and millennial workers.
Sutton said, “Managers should focus on the individual needs of their black employees at this critical point. If someone asks for day off, they may need time to process and decompress. Honor the request without asking questions. If an employee wants to talk about how they’re feeling, it’s important to make them feel heard. On the other hand, a black employee who seems suddenly withdrawn could be feeling pain and frustration on a very intimate level. Don’t pressure them to talk, but check in frequently to see how they’re doing.”
About the School
The Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR) is the world’s leading source of expertise on managing and representing workers, designing effective organizations, and building strong employment relationships.