Former President Barack Obama said: “When times are tough, we don’t give up. We get up.” That’s precisely what public employees did. At a time of unimaginable grief, when a sudden, highly contagious virus rocked the entire world and our own personal world, union members—and especially public sectors workers—didn’t give up, they got up and went to work. During a time that drenched us in dread and paralyzed so many with fear—an unnerving time that, for some, meant there would be no final hug, goodbye or sacraments to meet our maker—these essential municipal workers were on the job. And many of them, regrettably, including many Local 237 members, were lost too. They were our friends. Our co-workers. Our mentors. Our “students.” Together, we shared family good times and bad, complained about the job—and often, each other. We hung Christmas decorations in the lunchroom and blew out birthday candles. And although it may be a worn-out phrase, “gone but not forgotten” is true. We will always remember the heated debates about why the Knicks blew their lead. We’ll always remember somebody’s special style and flair for fashion. Or their favorite phrase—used repeatedly—that drove you crazy. Then there were the recipes for the best-ever chili… and the samples brought in to share.
In the years to come, there will be countless books written—movies produced, college courses and TV “talking heads” galore—all trying to explain this horrific time in the history of the world, which resulted in so much loss, not just in terms of people and their livelihoods, but in terms of loss of confidence in government and our leaders too. Confidence is shattered in so many ways—in the quality and equality of our healthcare system as well as in our nation’s ability to achieve true racial justice. We’ll also remember and wonder how something so devastating could creep up on us and catch us off-guard. How could this nation have lost more lives in just three months than in 10 years of fighting the Vietnam War, Gulf War, Afghanistan War, and Iraq War combined? And the racial inequality of the lives lost! The pandemic crisis was like a movie. A bad movie. But, who would ever have thought that a 2-hour movie you could have enjoyed with buttered popcorn and M&Ms—a movie that scared you silly the whole time it was on the big screen, but didn’t stop you from enjoying your burger and fries at McDonald’s after the Hollywood mayhem had ended—who would ever have thought that the movie would be coming to us in real life and in real time? The actors in this flick don’t take off their pancake makeup at the end of the day’s filming and head over to their favorite pub to throw back a few. No backlot here. The “actors,” unfortunately, are all of us! In the beginning, we may have been hopeful for a happy, Hollywood-style ending, but the problem and the pain didn’t quickly subside and seems never-ending. But in all this darkness, there are many examples of the best of people on display. Healthcare professionals, first responders, transit workers—to name just a few—are among those who risk their lives to save the life of another person. And how about the 22,000 volunteers from other states who rushed to New York to help a place they don’t know, and people they never met. All they knew was that there are people in need. But we also don’t need to look beyond our own public workers to see the best examples of the best of people. Our members are defined as essential workers whose work is vital in helping keep New York functioning and safeguarding our most vulnerable populations. Local 237 members—who work throughout the five boroughs and on Long Island—and all municipal workers, are true to former President Obama’s words. They did “get up” and continue to do so.
On behalf of all New Yorkers, let’s give them a much deserved THANK YOU!
Gregory Floyd is president, Teamsters Local 237 and vice president at-large on the general board of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters