Hailing Heroes in Our Midst


Each evening at 7 p.m., locked-down New Yorkers have been opening their windows and bursting into cheers and applause in honor of the nurses, doctors and other frontline heroes laboring through the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s amazing to witness, and it’s a rare bright spot in a grim and frightening time. The dedicated professionals— health care workers and first responders, for instance—who found their vocations in lifesaving professions, deserve the applause and we wholeheartedly join the cheers.

There are many other unsung heroes in this struggle who, by doing their day-to-day jobs, are also providing a vital service and deserve recognition as well.

The list is long, and includes transit workers, sanitation crews, prison guards and correction officers, building staff members, grocery clerks, postal and delivery workers, child care workers and many more.

Some two-thirds of these unsung heroes are women and persons of color. Many of them earn a decent living wage at stable union jobs; others make the minimum wage with few or no benefits and no job security. None of them are in the high earning category.

But like doctors, nurses and first responders, these everyday workers cannot join those of us fortunate enough to be able to work at home with a computer and a phone. The unsung heroes have to show up, in many cases traveling long distances on public transportation to get there.

It’s true that employers have provided many workplace precautions for protection, such as facemasks, Plexiglas shields and physical distancing requirements for customers.

But the supermarket checkout clerks, the truck drivers who deliver the groceries that keep the shelves stocked, and the building staff members who’ve increased their cleaning and disinfecting duties in the pandemic have become essential workers in ways that we’d never imagined.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his televised daily briefing on Monday, remarked that these are the workers who are “carrying us on their backs through this crisis.”

He is right about that.

The governor also is on the mark with a call this week for all key workers in the crisis to receive hazard pay for their service. We can certainly support an approach like that, and look forward to seeing a detailed proposal.

In the meantime, let’s each of us recognize the heroic efforts of the people around us—the carrier who manages to get our mail delivered despite a virus-depleted workforce, the bus driver who gets us to our destination safely, the child care workers who look after children of the nurses, doctors and emergency medical service personnel who are dealing with the sick.

A smile and a “thank you for your service” will go a long way.

Pope Francis, in an article on the pandemic in a Spanish magazine, articulated that sentiment quite well. “If there’s one thing we’ve been able to learn in all this time,” he wrote, “it’s that no one is saved alone.”