Opinion: Honoring Boston’s Backbone — Our Labor Force

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It has been a year of uncertainty but as the days grow longer and warmer, vaccinations continue and the number of COVID-19 cases trend in the right direction, there is a sense of hope on the horizon. As this time of stress and uncertainty tapers off, we should never forget the people who made a difference during these darkest of times.

Alex Gray

Just as we honor our veterans of the armed forces on specific holidays throughout the year, from now on we need to always remember that not all heroes wear uniforms. On May 1, we began the month by commemorating May Day or International Workers Day. It is a day set aside to commemorate the gains and struggles made by workers and the labor movement in our world. May Day is especially important this year as a commemoration of the immeasurable contribution that front-line workers made here in Boston and across the globe during this past year. 

When Boston and our country faced the greatest public healthcare emergency in over a century, healthcare professionals showed up day-after-day-after-day. There are 448,323 front-line healthcare workers in Massachusetts as of 2018 and these brave men and women continue to work tirelessly to ensure that we combat this historic pandemic. More than 14,000 healthcare workers in Massachusetts were sickened by COVID-19 throughout the course of the pandemic. The importance of the work that our healthcare professionals continue to provide requires that we stand up for them by supporting efforts like those of the striking nurses at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester and the hard working people who make up the Service Employees International Union here in Boston. Health care professionals had our back during the pandemic and we need to have their back now. 

When we needed to be fed and to stay healthy and safe while doing so, our grocery stores and restaurant workers showed up for us here in Boston. There are 349,300 restaurant and foodservice jobs in Massachusetts which accounts for 9% of all jobs in the Commonwealth. These employees have been forced to work under considerable pressure during the pandemic to ensure that families are fed. As we move closer to a day without the pandemic, we must ensure that we continue to recognize the important role that our restaurant and foodservice workers play in our city by ensuring they receive the wages, benefits, and protections that they deserve. 

And when our students needed to transition from in-person to virtual classes, our teachers and school administrators showed up for us here in Boston. The pandemic forced our schools to make once unthinkable decisions to switch our classrooms from 125 physical school buildings to a variety of virtual settings for the Boston Public Schools’ more than 54,000 students. It was a difficult process that showed the crucial role that Boston teachers play in not only educating our children but also providing a reliable and safe place for so many students during their parent’s work day. This May, and every day, we should be grateful to the Boston Teacher’s Union and the important contributions they make to our city. 

President Biden frequently states that “the middle class built this country and unions built the middle class.” Let’s add to this that during the pandemic, when America was at its greatest need in a generation, that workers, time-and-time-again, saved our country. And as we rebuild America as we deal with, and eventually recover from, the pandemic that now, more than ever, workers along side with unions need to play a key role in rebuilding America. Let's take the time this month to thank those around us, who put themselves last to help others during the greatest crisis of our generation. 

Alex Gray, a graduate of Boston College and Suffolk University Law School, works for the city of Boston and is running for At-Large Boston City Council.