New York, NY – TV commercials from the governor’s office are singing, “We’re back — back in a New York Groove!” New York City is coming back to life they promise; businesses are reopening, restaurants are returning, and things will soon be like they were before the shutdown began.
These are all great things. But rather than focus on our city’s return, it’s important to remember workers like us. It is important to remember the people who were essential and remained on the job. It is equally important to remember where we came from and what we went through.
We are all grateful to see the masks starting to come off with increased vaccinations. It’s nice to see each other’s faces again. We can smile at one another, and certainly hear each other more clearly without a surgical mask covering our mouths and noses.
Yup, we can certainly breathe a little easier, now. We can live better and enjoy the summer because there’s finally an end in sight. We can laugh, hug, shake hands and be free to enjoy ourselves without the constant threat of Covid-19. This is all good news.
But we have to remember the lessons we were taught during this pandemic. It is important to remember, so the past does not repeat itself. Proper safety and sanitary protocols on the job are still crucial. Washing our hands has always been a good idea, even before Covid came to town.
Now that the city is starting to show signs of new life, let’s not forget how we survived the shutdown together. We have to remember what kept our city’s pulse beating. Not all workers shared the same experience. Perhaps our experience was more like the words of English writer Damian Barr, who wrote, “We are not all in the same boat. We are in the same storm. Some are on super yachts and some just have one oar.” To me, this quote explains some of the divisions that continue to exist between onsite workers and those who were able to work remotely. This is especially true for those of us who took orders from people who were safely at home during the pandemic.
There is, indeed, much to learn from this pandemic. There is more to understand. There is more to the term “essential worker.” It was us, after all, who showed up and kept things running. It was essential workers who kept the hospitals and emergency rooms functioning. We will be remiss if we forget about all those who manned the trucks and filled the graves. It would also be wrong to forget all those who died without a proper farewell.
Regardless of the losses around us, essential workers still came to work. It was us who stayed on the job. It was us who kept the city running. It was us who kept the deliveries moving. We maintained the streets, the subways, the busses, the trains, the buildings and the post offices. It was essential workers who made special deliveries because no one else felt safe enough to leave their home. It was essential workers who kept food services running. Essential workers stocked the supermarket shelves and withstood complaints about toilet paper shortages.
There is more to celebrate and more to consider this year. This summer will certainly be better than the last. However, it would be wrong to tell essential workers, “The problem is over.” That would be the same as telling us to go back to being regular under-appreciated workers. The pandemic proved how essential we are to New York City. It’s something that must be recognized during collective bargaining and in new contract agreements.
Maybe the commercials are right. Maybe we are back. Or maybe Mr. Sinatra said it best: If we can make it here, we can make it anywhere. New York City has come back from the brink of destruction more than once. And it was all because of essential workers like us. So, again, maybe Ol’ Blue Eyes knew something when he sang, “It’s—up—to—you—New—York—New—York.” Let’s hope we learn from this pandemic. Let’s hope we get back on track, and back in the groove.
No one else has earned it more.
Ben Kimmel is a proud member of the IUOE Local 94, as well as an Author, Writer on thewrittenaddiction.com, Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Certified Addiction and Recovery Coach, Certified Professional Life Coach, and Peer & Wellness Advocate. Ben can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org