On Saturday, June 12, elected officials from Suffolk and Nassau counties, along with union leaders, paid respect to local transportation workers who lost their lives to COVID-19.
Family members and friends of the 21 public transportation workers who succumbed to the virus were on hand for a dedication of a memorial garden to their loved ones on the east side of the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge.
The garden features a stone with all of the workers’ names and five American white dogwood trees donated by the Bridgehampton High School’s Future Farmers of America under the direction of Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz.
Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac), who chairs the Legislature’s transportation working group, led the event.
The committee initiated the idea to salute the workers with the memorial. Fleming said with families not being able to properly mourn during the pandemic due to COVID-19 restrictions, it was important to take time out to remember the workers.
She said the concept of essential workers evolved over the past 15 months, from frontline workers such as police officers, firefighters and health professionals to educators, grocery store workers and more.
“Our public transportation workers ensured that each of these essential employees got to his or her workplace,” Fleming said. “Our bus drivers, and our train operators and our transportation workers literally kept our society moving and our economy afloat. We owe them a debt of gratitude that we cannot fully express.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) thanked labor leaders for working with the county during a difficult time.
“You have done so much to lead, to represent these essential workers and to work with us,” he said. It was “in an environment in which none of us had a playbook on how to deal with this, how to handle this.”
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran (D) said the families do not grieve alone.
“When people come and see these beautiful trees they’re going to ask questions, are going to want to know what happened here — why is this here?” she said. “People will know about your loved one’s sacrifice, and we’ll know about their lives. The fact that they were out there when so many other people were afraid, getting the doctors and nurses, getting the grocery store workers, getting home care workers to where they had to go. It was selfless work.”
Among the speakers were the Rev. Shaju Devassy, associate pastor of Church of St. Barnabas the Apostle in Bellmore; the Rev. Charles Coverdale, pastor of First Baptist Church of Riverhead; Debra Hagan, Transport Workers Union Local 252 president; Daniel Kane Jr., Teamsters Local 202 president; Anthony Simon, SMART Transportation Division general chairman; and Bill DeCarlo, national vice president/legislative director of Transportation Communications Union/IAM.
The Hauppauge High School Chamber Choir sang “A Parting Blessing” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and Lt. Sean Murtha of the Suffolk County Police Department Emerald Society Pipes and Drums played “Amazing Grace.”
Hagan said the workers left their homes every day knowing the risks they were taking, trying their best to protect themselves with masks, hand sanitizer and keeping their distance from others.
“They made that sacrifice, because the communities needed them to get on those buses and do their job,” she said. “It’s so important that we never forget that every morning they got up, and they left their home, kissed their loved ones goodbye. And unfortunately for many, sacrificed the ultimate sacrifice of contracting COVID and leaving us on this Earth. We’re not going to forget. Each and every one of your family members holds a very special part in our hearts. Their co-workers are never going to forget the camaraderie.”