We often quote the legendary labor leader Mother Jones. In these days, “Mourn the dead, and fight for the living” resonates clearly like never before as collectively we rise to do battle in the time of COVID-19.
In human terms, this battle is painfully costly. As of now, we have lost more than 100 of our frontline workers to this deadly virus. Hundreds more are sick, including many who remain in ICU. Hundreds have tested positive and are in self-quarantine, while thousands more await test results.
Our frontline workers — friends, neighbors, coworkers — are out with their lives on the line, some paying the ultimate price in delivering needed aid, caring for the sick, and working to serve the people of this city during this pandemic that has killed more than 15,000 in New York City.
When warnings that this virus that first devastated Wuhan, China, and later spread throughout the Middle East and Europe, was reaching our shores, we were led to believe that precautions were in place to alleviate the impact when it reached our city.
We believed we were prepared, that our city’s hospital system was able to handle such a health crisis, and that adequate protections for our workers were on hand.
This was not the case.
I remember the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
Our union was there from the very beginning, and worked diligently in the months-long recovery and cleanup process at the World Trade Center site. Many of our members worked long hours, days, and weeks during that time, constantly exposed to toxic debris and fumes.
At the time, we were told that working at the site posed limited risks, implying that our workers were in little danger. Thus, many went in with woefully inadequate safety equipment to protect themselves.
Sadly, that turned out not to be true. Countless thousands of New Yorkers, including our brave members who went in out of duty and commitment to their work, have been getting sick ever since. Throughout the years since 9/11, many have succumbed to the consequences of officially-sanctioned expedience.
Then, as now, this pandemic and 9/11 share several aspects in common. Foremost is the lack of preparedness by the Trump administration to have stocks of personal protective equipment for the city to rely on in such an emergency. Thousands of city workers deemed essential under these emergency orders went in without masks or gloves — the very basics in order to work safely under these dangerous conditions.
I am proud of the work our members have done in fully committing themselves under constant risk and pressure. We should all be thankful that these heroic workers provide the invaluable services that our city needs during this crisis.
Despite the efforts on the frontlines, there is nothing but failure by the federal government supposedly behind us.
As was the case in 9/11, we were misled, and the inability of the Trump administration to provide personal protective equipment to thousands of frontline DC 37 members was inadequate, and unforgivable.
The state of emergency declared by Mayor Bill de Blasio on March 15, and the following statewide PAUSE order by Governor Andrew Cuomo on March 20, have resulted in the shutdown of the city’s economy, decisions that have left many New Yorkers unemployed, while driving our most at-risk citizens deeper into poverty.
This shutdown has cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue. Unless help from the federal government comes soon, this financial disaster will negatively impact our future in the years to come.
We will be at the forefront to demand the necessary financial support to protect the safety of our members and our city. Recently, Mayor de Blasio named me to serve as a member of the city’s Fair Recovery Task Force. I will use this position to ensure the city receives access to the funds and services to assist in the recovery effort, and to be better prepared for a potential second wave of COVID-19.
As this crisis continues, our members will take the unavoidable risks to get the work done to protect the people they serve in New York City. More of them will become ill with this virus, and unfortunately, some will die, paying the ultimate sacrifice so that others may live.
This should never have happened, but it has. The damage done to our afflicted members and their families is permanent.
We will forever honor their memory — and we shall fight with our collective power for all of them.