Credit: Antoine Andrews photo

Among those who spoke to the AmNews, who kept working? Being in danger’s way was equal parts scary or a call to duty (or both). A mixed bag.

Some of the “mixed bag” mentality can be found in places such as the Bedford-Stuyvesant Volunteer Ambulance Corps where Commanding Officer Antoine Robinson said that the work of his crew was “phenomenal,” but the work came with a price. 

They sacrificed their health [to help others],” said Robinson. “We had guys that would stay either in the van or on the base for 48 straight hours because they were scared of bringing it [COVID] home. We had to talk people down on emergency calls because they thought they had COVID. 

“I haven’t seen this much death since 9/11,” continued Robinson. “I don’t want this to come off as callous, but at least with 9/11 it was relegated to three places: the Pentagon, Pennsylvania, and lower Manhattan. Then you had the psychological trauma of seeing all of that death for those who had just joined EMT and were new to the job.”

Faiza Khalid, a tech teacher at P.S. 36 in Manhattan said that while the two years have been difficult, it’s adding more to her arsenal that she can take into the future as a teacher.

“It’s been extremely challenging,” said Khalid. “We were adapting to a remote environment.” Given her level of expertise, Khalid was able to walk others through the steps of setting up others to make remote learning as smooth as it can be.

“I am a tech teacher, so I know most of the programs,” Khalid said. “I think the work we did was nothing but amazing. We did a lot of social service checkups when children didn’t sign in [to class].” Despite the resourcefulness, Khalid said that she hopes that the city “trains and supports” teachers so they can succeed.

For those such as New York State Nurses Association President Nancy Hagans, RN, BSN, CCRN, the pandemic exposed how much nurses mean to the public and to the medical industry.

“The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that we cannot have a strong healthcare system without a strong foundation of nurses,” Hagan said. “Yet two years later, nurses still see huge healthcare disparities and still do not have everything we need to deliver safe, quality care. We need New York to step up to support, protect and respect frontline healthcare workers and our patients.”

NYSNA’s main goals right now are to implement safe staffing and pushing for better funds from state and city governments. NYSNA First Vice President Judith Cutchin, RN, MSN, stated that New York City’s Health+Hospitals system is the largest in the city and needs more funds to help close the gap in medical care. 

“To fix inequality in health care, to improve quality care, and to address the growing understaffing crisis at NYC H+H, the city needs to provide more funding and support to our public system.”

No one better understands this than Antoine Andrews, a worker for UPS. He, and his union Teamsters Joint Council 16, made sure of it. “When the pandemic began, we showed up and we got out,” Andrews texted to the AmNews. “Not knowing what was ahead of us ,we put ourselves and our family’s lives at risk. We bravely serviced our communities while they stayed home and stayed safe. As we all know the term, stay home and save lives, we didn’t have that option. It was like an endless Christmas peak season, due to the increase in volume as people set up to work/conduct schooling from home, customers needed their supplies as they adjusted to the new way of living. We face a constant fear of contracting this virus, whether from touching thousands of packages, contact with customers or walking through the streets as the virus was said to be airborne.

“We performed with dignity, and pride,” continued Andrews. “We performed as teamster men and women would, full-time and part-time altogether came to work and made record-breaking profits for United Parcel Service during these times. I speak on behalf of every essential worker, we haven’t forgotten: we will always remind UPS why we are essential. We demand to be treated as such, with dignity and respect and we deserve hazard pay for all that we went through in the last few years.”

The mixed bag of experience is the story of New York: assistance for some and not for others. For some, it’s a chance to reflect on their hard work and how their colleagues closed ranks to work and solve problems. For others, it’s the inequality exposed and the fight against organizing. When asked to sum up her experience with one word, Khalid took some liberties.

“Life-changing. Is that one word?” she said. “Let’s hyphenate it.”

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