Mark Spadafore, president of the Syracuse Labor Council holds a sign in support of racial justice June 17, at the Syracuse VA Medical Center. | Cherilyn Beckles, Staff Photo

Letter to the Editor

Labor Day message

This has been a hard year.  There is no way around it; everyone has been touched by the pandemic, the failing economy, racial unrest and the sentiments that goes along with the things that we have endured in 2020. We are in unprecedented times and living through a phase that will be taught in the history books for future generations.

This pandemic has made us all reassess everything – how we relate to one another, how we conduct ourselves in public spaces, how we value one another and what is truly important. The pandemic has forced us to look in the mirror and see not things as we see them, but as they are.

This public health crisis has exposed a healthcare system that has cut so many corners in the name of cost-savings and efficiencies that it was caught ill prepared for this crisis.  We see the healthcare disparities in communities of color and in rural areas where a lack of healthcare systems jeopardizes people’s health. We see the lack of planning in long term care exposing how we staff nursing homes on the cheap so that the profits go into the pockets of private owners at the expense of quality care. The lack of certain items from our grocery stores shows the cracks in our supply chains.  The pandemic has caused public budgets to be depleted, showing how vulnerable our important public employees are at this time. These defects show that we have systems in place that were weakened in the name of progress, and now are full gaping holes in our society. 

For this Labor Day, we call on everyone to rebuild into a new world. And one can be created though we are in dark times.  In our history, we have had tough times and out of those tough times, changes were made to make us a stronger society.  Out of the Great Depression, we passed programs that benefited working people that live to this day such as Social Security. Out of World War II, we created the GI Bill which extended post-secondary education to a wide variety of people, not just those who had the means to go to college. These are just a few examples how we can see positive changes out of gloomy times, and we can learn the lessons of the GI Bill, which further entrenched systemic racism with exclusionary policies. We can recreate a society that leaves that racism in the past.

And we have seen some positive signs already.  Because of the pandemic, New York State started requiring businesses to offer sick time to workers. In the middle of a public health catastrophe, workers should not have to choose between infecting their co-workers and paying their bills. Because of the pandemic, we now have a new appreciation for what workers are classified as “essential”. Healthcare, retail, and public employees are not invisible workers – they are on the front lines of fighting against this pandemic. Though the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Daniel Prude are horrific, our society is beginning to reckon with systemic racism and fighting to make changes to make this society more equitable. And we have a positive story locally is that we have members of the Teamsters union at the Budweiser Brewery in Baldwinsville retooling their operations to make hand sanitizer for all the polling places in the East Coast.  Workers from our area are going to make voters across our country safer from the pandemic.  We should be proud that we can provide a way to stay protected during a national election.

Though we are struggling as a community and the times are bleak, we can have a brighter future if we take this time to fight for the society we want to rebuild. It is within our hands – we need to come together and organize.

Mark Spadafore,
President, Greater Syracuse Labor Council, AFL-CIO

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