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50 Years After The Charleston Hospital Strike, Racial Inequalities Remain

In 1969, hundreds of African-American hospital workers, mostly female, walked off the job at Medical College Hospital (MCH) and Charleston County Hospital (CCH), kicking off 100 and 130-day strikes at those facilities. The strikes caused serious strife, though eventually they did bear fruit. Still, some of the same inequalities remain in force in South Carolina today. If you are discriminated against on the job, it is critical that you know you have options.

Historical Significance

The African-American workers at MCH and CCH had numerous reasons to strike, including being paid less than white workers across the board, dealing with racist comments on the job and the lack of African-Americans in any kind of leadership position. Eventually, approximately 400 workers walked off the job at both hospitals, seeking higher wages, a meaningful grievance procedure, and recognition of the union the workers had helped to form. Charleston and South Carolina in general had been fairly uniformly hostile to unions at that point, but it was considered a major sticking point.

The strikes were eventually partially successful, especially after the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) became involved. The SCLC was founded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and it greatly assisted the union in both political and economic ways to disrupt Charleston’s day-to-day functioning. Eventually, federal pressure forced an end to the strike, pushing the hospital to rehire fired workers, establish a credit union and grievance procedure. However, much of these gains did not last, and impacts can still be seen today.

Black Workers Still Suffer

While the hospital strikes of 1969 did make some progress, a report from the College of Charleston’s Race & Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) shows that the overall employment picture for workers of color in South Carolina is grim. The Post and Courier reports that while South Carolina’s unemployment rate is at a historic low as of this writing, black unemployment is still twice that of whites. While this does track with nationwide rates, it is still worth noting the rate because South Carolina lacks job protections that many other states have.

If you are discriminated against at work, and you suspect it is because of your race, it is important to understand that you have options. The South Carolina Human Affairs Law explicitly prohibits discrimination based on race, as does the federal Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964, and a complaint filed with either the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) can be filed even if you are only an applicant (as opposed to an employee). And of course, contacting an experienced employment discrimination attorney is a good first step.

Get Legal Help Today

The 1969 hospital strikes were the first major action to politicize the black community in South Carolina. But unfortunately, there is still more work to be done before full equality can be achieved. Attorney A. Christopher Potts has handled many racial discrimination cases and is ready to work hard to seek justice in yours. Contact Hitchcock & Potts today to schedule a consultation.

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