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Public Employee Press: PEP Talk

COVID-19 shows what we must do

By FITZ REID, Local 768 President

It appears that we have passed through the worst of the COVID-19 disease, but it still lurks in our communities ready to spring back at any moment. Clusters of cases are still rising in New York City, and vigilance is needed on everyone’s part, as well as support for our Test and Trace Corps.

Right now, a thousand Contact Tracers represented by DC 37 Local 768 are on the phones and in the field tracking down cases of possible infection and notifying exposed persons to quarantine. The outcome is anything but certain, with a vaccine still many months away.

More than 500 state and city workers have died from the COVID-19 disease in an effort to provide medical care and maintain public services for New Yorkers. Apart from a family death benefit won from the MTA by TWU Local 100, there has been no serious move to compensate city workers or their families for their suffering and deaths. This, even though for over four months Governor Cuomo and Health+Hospitals’ Dr. Mitchell Katz have proposed hazard pay for our H+H and other essential workers. Instead, there are threats of 22,000 layoffs in NYC, demands for worker concessions, and efforts to sabotage workers’ hard-earned pensions and health benefits.

Most of those who died from COVID-19 have been Blacks, Latinos, and other “minorities.” Maybe that is why Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Trump Administration care so little. It’s time for our own Mayor and Governor to do more—both in compensating those who faced this deadly disease as caregivers, such as our Physician Assistants and Respiratory Therapists ,and other essential workers, and in planning for a next wave of COVID-19, and the next pandemic or other natural disaster.

While the wealthy can leave the city, union members cannot. We make the city run. We are servicing the hospitals and clinics, maintaining public transportation, providing security, cleaning the streets, maintaining electricity, the sewage, the water systems, and public health. At the height of the crisis, many of us worked alongside temporary workers, some from Krucial Staffing, who in many cases earned twice what we earned.

With 178,000 coronavirus deaths in the U.S., including the deaths of more than 900 healthcare workers, as well as over 5.7 million Americans infected, the crisis is still unfolding.

Here in New York, many Wall Street donors to the governor’s campaign are pressing him not to raise taxes on the wealthy to maintain our public services, even during this pandemic. Nationally, corporations are asking Senator McConnell to insulate them from liability even if they caused the death of workers from the coronavirus.

Public employees do the work that makes society work. Our wealthiest must pay their fair share to provide for public services as the pandemic shows that we are all interdependent—socially and economically. The military-industrial-tech companies must contribute some of their super profits to maintain our public services that benefit everyone.

Every union was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and every union must join to demand stronger public services: increased staffing, better equipment and training, hazard pay and performance compensation, and not allow giant corporations and the super-wealthy to use the pandemic to undermine unions and destroy the gains that the workers have fought and died for over the last hundred years.

This editorial originally appeared in The Chief-Leader on Aug. 31, 2020.