The COVID-19 pandemic, a sudden public health crisis that has gripped our country since March, came as a shock and has taken an emotional and financial toll unprecedented in the history of New York City.
Immediately, our city became one of the major epicenters of the outbreak. The consequences were sudden. Plans were changed, futures diminished, and lives were ruined as thousands died from this deadly virus.
But the city’s public workforce was ready. Our front-line workers stood up, and since the first cases were reported in late February, they did everything that was asked of them—and more.
As the pandemic raged on, tens of thousands of municipal workers bravely served the public, risking their lives daily to provide and maintain needed services despite long odds against them. Their service was exceptional under conditions that included many not having proper personal protective equipment and sometimes working in too close a proximity to patients with COVID-19.
Many of these public workers were sickened by the coronavirus, and some even died. We mourn and honor those who paid that terrible price—including the more than 150 DC 37 members who gave their lives during this pandemic.
As essential workers on the front-lines of a public health disaster, our members performed heroically. They went to work for one reason—their extraordinary commitment to service and to the people of this city.
Now, many of these workers are confronted with the possibility of layoffs.
This is not a just reward for months of service during this pandemic. Pink slips for 22,000 public workers who came into work not knowing if they would get sick while on the job or from commuting on public transportation is reprehensible.
And for them to be told repeatedly that they were essential workers, and lauded as heroes by the press, the public, and politicians, and then, just a few months later, maybe handed notices and told they had 30 days before facing an uncertain future—I have three words: We say no!
Layoffs should be the final option, not the first. There is no reason to add to the already over-crowded unemployment lines worsened by the pandemic. Knowledgeable, talented public workers, with their courage and experience, who gave it their all when the city needed them the most, our essential front-line workforce deserves much better than this.
The people of the city they serve deserve better than this.
It is inconceivable that politicians are playing with the lives of our workers like they are game pieces on a chessboard. They are not pawns to be sacrificed for backroom politics when there are several funding options available on the table.
No, these workers are heroes. They include first responders—emergency medical personnel—who went on thousands of calls during the height of the crisis. They are our school lunch workers who fed hundreds of thousands of needy children and the elderly. They are support staff from schools who remained on duty, risking exposure to the coronavirus.
They are parks workers who for a time early in the crisis often worked without proper PPE to keep our city’s parks clean.
They are clerical workers spread among the many city agencies, responsible for helping make this city function. They went to work under difficult conditions, and for months often tasked to stage-manage the seemingly impossible in a city under a near-total lockdown.
By doing their jobs, our public workers kept New York City from falling into utter chaos. They went to work not knowing whether they would wake up ill the following morning, while constantly confronted with the horrors of the reported daily death toll, of knowing co-workers, friends, and family diagnosed with the virus.
Their indomitable spirit and determination to keep New York City running during the worst health crisis in a century speaks volumes about the 22,000 our government leaders now want to lay off because partisan politics comes before people. The work of these 22,000 should rightly be held up as the primary example of loyalty and commitment to public service.
These workers will always be heroes. They are essential in the very meaning of the word.
And as such, they shall stay on the job.