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Buffalo healthcare workers join in national walkout for Black lives

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Kyle S. Mackie/WBFO News
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Local 1199SEIU and CWA 1168 union members participated in a national walkout for Black lives in Buffalo’s medical corridor Thursday.";

More than 100 unionized healthcare workers at Oishei Children’s Hospital and Buffalo General Medical Center took part in a national walkout for Black lives Thursday, calling for an end to police brutality against people of color and more equitable access to healthcare.

The crowd assembled outside the two hospitals in Buffalo’s medical corridor at noon. Most participants were dressed in scrubs or lab coats—and, of course—face masks. Many workers also held signs demanding justice for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the victims of two recent police killings in Minneapolis and Louisville who have become household names since their deaths.

“As we continue to battle COVID-19, we’re also continuing to battle issues that have plagued our country for generations: continued discrimination against Black people and people of color,” said Charles Williams, vice chair of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East at Buffalo General.

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Credit Kyle S. Mackie/WBFO News
Healthcare workers observe 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence in memory of George Floyd and other victims of police killings.

“We are walking out for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time that George Floyd lay unresponsive with a knee on his neck,” Williams said. “We demand accountability [and] that city, state and national leadership invest in our communities by allocating money into healthcare, housing and youth services.”

One woman in the crowd named Cindy works in registration at Oishei’s Emergency Care Center. She said access to high-quality healthcare is often determined by race.

“A lot of minorities don’t get the proper care just because of the areas that you live in,” she said, adding that the walkout meant to her personally, “solidarity, unity [and] time for change.”

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Credit Kyle S. Mackie/WBFO News
Thursday’s crowd gathered in a parking lot between Oishei Children’s Hospital, Buffalo General Medical Center and UB's Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Another employee named Jay who participated in the walkout works in central supply at Buffalo General. He said the healthcare industry itself isn’t immune from systemic racism.

“To me, it’s a step, because even in here, you know, I feel like sometimes there’s a little racism in here,” he said. “I feel like some people look at me like I ain’t supposed to be here, so, you know, this could be a step forward.”

Jay said he wished it wouldn’t have taken the deaths of Floyd, Taylor and others for the voices of African Americans to be heard, but he’s hopeful now that real change is possible.

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