Honoring Workers on Workers Memorial Day

Today, Workers Memorial Day, we honor workers who died on the job. The day is a vivid reminder of the risks that so many workers take to provide the goods and services that we too often take for granted. In the era of COVID-19, some people who take those risks on our behalf, like front-line medical workers, fire fighters and police, are frequently and justifiably lauded for their service and sacrifice. Less heralded are many of the other, less visible workers who work in stores, provide home health services, deliver our online orders, drive trains and buses, and perform a wide range of other services deemed essential. They provide those services at great cost. In New York City alone, sixty-eight employees of the Department of Education, including twenty-eight teachers, have died of COVID-19, as have nearly seventy employees of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, thirty of them bus drivers. Of course, the danger is not limited to New York City but includes workers in food processing plants, order fulfillment centers, supermarkets and bodegas, and so many other jobs when the workers do not have the choice of working safely from home or the luxury of risking the loss of a job that provides the income that is the only bulwark between homelessness and starvation for them and their families.

Praise for these workers would be great, but more important is granting them the financial and health protections that they need to assure that any work expected of them can happen in a safe and fair manner. Without those assurances, and a commitment to guarantee fair wages, safe conditions and access to healthcare any recognition we accord on this Workers Memorial Day is hollow and the deaths suffered by those workers will be in vain.