I’m a public employee serving my community during this crisis

Action on May 15, 2020 at UIC Hospital. 
The disastrous impact of the pandemic has been unfolding in Illinois for many weeks, with near daily stories of the toll it’s taking on working people, our families and services we provide in our communities. As a Respiratory Care Therapy Specialist at UIC Hospital, what I am seeing first hand is unlike anything I have never seen. It’s unbelievably stressful. I go home after work, and I’m proud of the work I do, but it’s difficult to relax or find time to myself when facing the reality of how dangerous COVID-19 is.  
Workers like me are doing our part despite the risk to our families and ourselves, because we care about the people we serve who need our support more than ever before. We know that we will only get through this if we all pull together. I work multiple 12-hour shifts a week, and that’s not including my second job. Work days are getting harder as the infection numbers rise. Juan Martinez, an Operating Room Technician at UIC Hospital, just passed away recently of COVID-19 complications. I could be Juan. It’s frightening. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and all of the families that have lost loved ones to this virus. I’m working with my union, SEIU Local 73, to demand that UIC institute immediate safety measures to protect all of its workers.  
If this virus is exposing anything, it’s that we’re all in this together. Each and every one of us. Black, brown, Asian, or white. Rich or poor. Protecting everyone’s health requires protecting the health of each of us. Without federal aid, states will have to start cutting this work (even services such as public safety, education and healthcare) or enact massive tax increases. Cuts like these add more people to the ranks of the unemployed and make it harder for the people in Illinois to recover, physically and economically, from the coronavirus. We have to do better by our communities and the people who are putting their lives on the line. That means protecting all workers affected by this crisis.  
We need comprehensive, universal healthcare so that no one is left out. We need rules to ensure that everyone who’s sick can afford to miss days of work. We need to invest in good union jobs that people can stay in so we have the expertise and consistency these critical services demand.  
We also need the private sector to step up and support the people on the frontlines. Corporations must share responsibility for the health and strength of the communities on whose work they depend. They need to pay their employees and ensure they have healthcare and paid leave.  They also need to ensure public employees like me can do their job. That means paying their fair share for public services instead of starving them by asking for corporate bailouts, as they have for the last several decades. 
This pandemic should serve as a stark reminder that failing to invest in the services we need has dire consequences when disaster strikes.  Working people on the frontlines are doing our part.  Many state and local government leaders have moved into action. Now Congress and President Trump need to do theirs by passing new legislation to inject $500 billion into state and local governments so our communities can provide essential services and protect all workers affected by this crisis. 
Let’s pull together to get through this crisis and make choices that will better prepare us for the next. As a nation, we must pay for and protect the things we value so they are there for all of us, all the time. That’s how we’ll get through this and get our economy going again.
This opinion piece was published in the Gazette Chicago.

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