clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

This Labor Day, let’s honor the workers who are beyond essential

In times of crisis, we can come together to collectively solve our problems, or we can push each other away and fend for ourselves. The labor movement understands the only way forward is for us to come together.

Maria Lopez, a nurse at the University of Illinois hospital, was scheduled to retire on April 30. But she kept working because she wanted to help people infected by COVID-19. She died from the virus on May 4.

Labor Day is one of the most beloved holidays of the year, a time for people of all backgrounds to take a moment to celebrate the people who lace up their boots every day and go to work. However, workers are not celebrating right now. Workers are doing whatever they can to live their lives during an unimaginable public health and economic catastrophe.

Our city, state and country are in the middle of multiple intersecting crises. And while we are all learning to live with the new normal, figuring out how to get our kids to school every day and keep ourselves safe, we cannot lose sight of the lives and livelihoods being lost every single day in our communities.

I think about Maria Lopez. Maria was a nurse in robotic surgery at the University of Illinois hospital and a proud member of the Illinois Nurses Association.

Maria worked at the hospital for 20 years and was scheduled to retire on April 30. She had recently undergone knee surgery when COVID-19 hit, and she could have used vacation days to leave her job early, but she felt it was her duty to stay at the hospital and help — because that’s what nurses do. They help.

In her last month before retirement, Maria contracted COVID-19, and she died on May 4.

There are hundreds more in our city, thousands more in our state and, sadly, more than 180,000 people in our country who have died from COVID-19. People like David Veloz, a machinist; Edward Singleton, a Chicago firefighter; and Unique Clay, a letter carrier with the U.S. Postal Service.

In times of crisis, we as a country have two choices: We can come together to collectively solve our problems, or we can push each other away and fend for ourselves as individuals.

The labor movement understands the only way forward is for us to come together. To act collectively to solve our problems, not by throwing social media bombs or withdrawing to our dark corners, but by working together collaboratively as one community, one city, one state and one nation.

We must come together to stop the attacks on our public institutions like our public schools, the postal service and the census. These are bedrock institutions that weave together the fabric of our democracy, and Trump’s attacks damage the very core of our nation.

We must come together to stop the attacks on working people. As Trump’s Labor Department and National Labor Relations Board undercut the rights of unions, the so-called “gig economy” is misclassifying employees as independent contractors, destroying basic protections for workers. We must pass the PRO Act and the HEROES Act and shift the power from big corporations back to the working class.

We must come together to reverse the obscene economic inequality that has arisen in our country. That means reversing the Trump tax giveaways to big corporations and the wealthiest, and it also means passing the Fair Tax amendment right here in Illinois. Our tax system is deeply unfair, and this Election Day we have a chance to start to set things right.

And we must come together to finally address the legacy of systemic racism that still pervades our movement, our city, our state and our country. We cannot retreat into our fears; we must address the issue head on, and we must elevate and center Black and Brown voices.

Labor Day is a time for all of us to come together, and as we do, I urge you to keep people like Maria, David, Edward and Unique in your heart. Union members who put their duty before themselves. Because that’s what the labor movement is about; that’s what this city is about; and that’s what this country is about.

Bob Reiter is president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, one of several labor organizations to have an ownership interest in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.