As an essential security officer, I risk my life to protect students, hospital staff, patients, and tenants. My coworkers and I also fear for the health and safety of our families while we are on the front lines of this pandemic. I live with my immunocompromised mother, and I want to make sure she stays safe. As a Black woman, I also see that COVID has hurt my community hard. I know the statistics are stacked against us.
That is why it is deeply personal for me, not only as a Black woman but also as an essential worker, when I see the leaders of our government horribly mismanage and lie about the COVID-19 crisis, some even getting infected themselves. Over 209,000 Americans are dead, and an exceptional number of them are from my community of Black Americans.
I hope that the White House staff — including the men and women who clean and maintain the White House — are safe and healthy. I hope they have the health care, protective equipment, and sick days they need to get through this. However, millions of essential workers do not have what they need to get through this pandemic, and Washington has done little to help them.
The Republican-controlled Senate, including my Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, has refused to pass the HEROES Act to give Black frontline workers the hazard pay, protective gear, and protection on the job that we need. The U.S. House of Representatives advanced the bill back in May, then passed a revised version last week — and the Senate still has yet to act.
While my coworkers and I continue to take risks with no guarantee of timely, adequate treatment, President Donald Trump and his top staffers are receiving the best medical care money can buy, paid for by my and other Americans’ taxes, and they don’t have to spend a minute worrying about their income during their quarantine and recovery.
The Senate must act now to stem the tide of illness and death that threatens frontline workers like me. They have yet to show me that they know that my life matters, that they have a plan to manage the coronavirus pandemic, and make testing and treatment widely available and affordable. We need leaders who will mandate protections like mask-wearing and science-based safety protocols for us all at work and in our communities, so we will all be able to get back to work, school, and our lives safely, when it is time. And when we are ready for recovery: America needs a plan to protect housing, or prevent abject poverty in neighborhoods that were already struggling.
Without any of this leadership, how are we supposed to count on our government to make sure a vaccine will be free, available to all, and distributed in the most effective way?
To build that trust and provide for its most vulnerable workers, our Senate needs to understand the health disparities families like mine face in a public health crisis. When we protect workers, we protect everyone.
Eve Carlton is a security officer and member of 32BJ SEIU.