Let’s honor the work­ers who are beyond es­sen­tial this La­bor Day

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - BY ROBERT G. REITER Robert G. Reiter is pres­i­dent of the Chicago Fed­er­a­tion of La­bor, one of sev­eral la­bor or­ga­ni­za­tions to have an own­er­ship in­ter­est in the Chicago Sun-Times.

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 that 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.

PRO­VIDED PHOTO

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 with COVID-19. She died from the virus on May 4.

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