Lunchroom workers honor Philando Castile with vigil

Union lunchroom workers from Philadelphia’s public schools on July 14 held a vigil to honor Philando Castile, an African American man killed by a police officer during a traffic stop in St. Anthony, Minnesota on July 6.

The Philadelphia workers are members of UNITE HERE Local 634.

Castile, a nutrition services supervisor for the St. Paul, Minnesota public schools, was member of Teamsters Local 320.

“I felt it was important to do this vigil today as a food service worker and mother of two Black sons who have been victims of ‘stop and frisk’ policies,” said Nicole Hunt, a food service worker and UNITE HERE organizer. “We have to come together as a nation to make changes and stop making excuses.”

A posting on the union’s Facebook page expanded on the reasons for the vigil.

“We gathered to honor the life of Philando Castile, a school cafeteria worker and union member who died unjustly during a traffic stop. As a union, we stand against systemic racism, police brutality, and a violent culture that disproportionately affects men and women of color. Join us in the effort to make this change! ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬‪#‎Justice4PhilandoCastile‬ ‪#‎SayTheirNames‬ Unite Here Philadelphia.”

Castile was shot four times by a police officer as Castile was sitting in the driver’s seat of his car. His girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her four-year old daughter were seated in the car at the time of the shooting.

Castile had been a member of Teamsters Local 320 for 14 years.

“I have known Philando ‘Phil’ Castile since he joined the Teamsters back in 2002 and he was an amazing person who did his job at St. Paul Public Schools because he loved the children he served,” said Sami Gabriel, Local 320 president. “He will be deeply missed by his colleagues and his community.”

In Philadelphia, UNITE HERE members gathered in the early evening at Benjamin Franklin High School to honor Castile.

“Our union represents a lot of people of color,” said Saudia Durrant, communications coordinator for UNITE HERE to the local CBS News affiliate. “We really wanted to make it an issue, and a conversation on assessing racism, assessing how we as a union can do our part to make sure a change comes about.”

A statement issued by UNITE HERE said that “The loss of Philando Castile echoes a persistent culture of violence and hate that disproportionately affect communities where our member and their families live and work. In order to stop cases such as Castile’s from happening again, our country needs to organize to change the economic conditions and social biases that perpetuate this culture of violence and hate against people of color.”

“In UNITE HERE we confront power and forces of oppression with collective action,” said D. Taylor UNITE HERE president. “Young Black men getting killed is an affront to everything we stand for. We believe every man and woman has value and rights. As a union, we will confront and take on racism whenever we see it.”

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