Labor Day is once again upon us. It means, happily for most of us, a three-day weekend. Last chance for us to head to the beach, fire up the backyard grill and get the kids ready to go back to school.
Back when unions represented a higher percentage of workers in America, Labor Day used to be a holiday when we honored the workers and the work that they do. There was a greater recognition by all of us as to the importance of these people in our lives and in our communities.
Nowadays, far too often, we come in contact with dozens of workers who, though in plain sight, are invisible to us. They may be bus drivers or train fare collectors or sanitation workers or mail carriers or grocery clerks or child care workers. Nearly all are underpaid and, unfortunately, unrecognized for making our lives and our communities livable.
Millions of them don’t get Labor Day off — e.g. emergency first responders, food service and retail sales workers, caregivers in our hospitals, nursing homes and home care.
Speaking for the latter, I know that most healthcare workers are dedicated to their job of providing the highest possible quality of care for their patients. Those, especially in nursing homes and in home care, are low-wage workers. Doing their work is not just a job for them — it is a mission. They often rightly say they are doing “the Lord’s work,” in taking care of the frail, elderly and sick.
A perfect example of such an individual is my 1199 SEIU Union Sister and Leader, Tamoya Norwood. Tamoya has worked as an Emergency Room Technician at Vassar Brothers Hospital in Poughkeepsie for the past 12 years. The mom of a 12-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, Tamoya starts her mornings at 4:30 AM
The emergency room handles some 200–225 patients every day. That number jumps to between 250-275 on holidays, as it will be on Labor Day.
So, when she gets to work at 7:30 a.m., she can expect to be on the job for at least 8 1/2 hours, and up to 12 1/2 hours. Tamoya works every other weekend and every other holiday. She also has a second job as an LPN in a doctor’s office.
“Of course it would be nice to spend the holiday with my family,” she says. “But saving lives is important to me too. I am the first person to see and stabilize a patient when they come through our doors. It is important that I am there.”
“I love saving lives and helping people. My purpose is to give them the care they need when no one else is there. I will be there to support you when you come into the ER. I will be family to you while you are here.”
“People should understand that healthcare workers choose this job fully knowing what it entails. We choose to come to work rather than be home with our families so that we can be there for you when you come in. I am here because I want to be, not because I have to be.”
Our families and our communities are so much better off because of people like Tamoya Norwood, who will be hard at work on Labor Day.
Perhaps during our barbecues and shopping trips on Monday, we can take a moment to reflect on and honor those who do the work to make our lives more livable. Or, in the case of Tamoya and her coworkers in the ER at Vassar, recognize and honor those who may save our lives one day.
Greg Speller is executive vice president of the Hudson Valley/Capital Region 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East, the largest healthcare union in America.