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Suffolk and Nassau transportation workers

On June 12, Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming led a memorial event for public transit workers who lost their lives to COVID-19. Photo by Rita J. Egan

This past Saturday at a memorial honoring the Suffolk and Nassau transportation workers who lost their lives to COVID-19, speakers touched on the idea that our definition of what makes a worker essential has evolved over the past 15 months.

We have always recognized the heroic acts of people such as firefighters and police officers who save and protect us when we are in danger. We respect the work that health professionals and EMT workers and volunteers provide when we or loved ones are sick or injured. However, the pandemic brought to the forefront many we have overlooked previously in our everyday lives.

To think, for more than a year, truckers and grocery store employees have gone out every workday, taking the chance that they may be exposed to a virus that could hospitalize or even kill them or their loved ones, just to make sure we had food on our tables.

Then there were the home health care professionals, who continued to care for their patients inside their homes, despite the risks, and our utility workers who kept the lights on and the water flowing.

Journalists continued to be there to keep everybody abreast of what was going on in the world, whether about the virus, restrictions, politics and so much more, some even standing in the middle of protests.

And of course, the public transportation workers were there to make sure that those professionals and so many others who were unable to work from home were able to get to their offices and stores every day. When one doesn’t have a car, a train or bus can make the difference between getting a paycheck or not.

How many people in their everyday lives can remember on occasion rushing around and maybe not showing such workers the respect they deserve. Maybe it was being short tempered with a cashier because the line was long or an item was missing a price tag or driving too fast as workers were repairing a road thereby putting them in danger.

Adversity can bring with it many lessons, appreciating those who make our day a bit easier is one we hope all will remember as our country continues on the road to normalcy. It’s essential for everyone to have some sort of income to afford the necessities of life, but there are some whose work is essential in keeping us alive and healthy beyond the roles we once recognized.

We salute them all.