Elected officials joined labor leaders at Elmhurst Hospital Wednesday for their annual Workers’ Memorial Event to honor those who have died or suffered injuries or illnesses, including COVID-19, while on the job, to recognize the sacrifices made by all essential workers on the frontlines, and to renew the fight for strong safety and health protections.
Elmhurst Hospital became known nationally as the “epicenter of the epicenter” when it became overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients at the height of the pandemic just over a year ago.
“Why did we see particular neighborhoods hit harder than others across Queens County?” Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said. “The answer is simple. There were those who could stay home and there were those who were essential workers and we know that many of our essential workers from this neighborhood down to the Rockaways and throughout southeast Queens who drive the city could not stay home. These are the workers that drive our economy.”
Speakers called on Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would strengthen workers’ freedom to organize a union and collectively bargain for safer working conditions.
“We need to make sure we are doing everything we can to pass the PRO Act,” Congresswoman Grace Meng said. “Our workers need more than applause, they need more than a hashtag, They need real, lifesaving legislation to be passed so that they too can go home safely to their families. They’ve risked so much to protect all of us, especially during this pandemic, and we will not rest until they are protected as well.”
Councilman Francisco Moya, who was born at Elmhurst Hospital and worked there before representing the neighborhood, spoke of workers who have died in construction accidents across the city.
“We’ve had 77 construction workers die in a span of five years and no one says a thing,” Moya said. “We need to protect the lives of those that have sacrificed so much to take care of our city and keep it running.”
State Senator Jessica Ramos, the chair of the Committee on Labor, also spoke of construction worker safety..
“Eighty percent of construction workplace fatalities in New York are our neighbors in Queens,” Ramos said. “Action must be taken federally with the PRO Act and at the state level. We fight for the freedom of workers to join a union and improve labor laws with worker-led guidance.”
New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health Executive Director Charlene Obernauer honored all workers who died on the job, including those lost as a result of COVID.
“We know that 1.65 million people in New York State have gotten COVID-19, we know that about 750,000of those people were workers, and we know that about 250,000 had symptomatic COVID on the job,” Obernauer said. “There are so many workers who need our support, there are so many workers who need us to continue to stand with them. And that’s why we’re here today to do — to say to workers and their families, that we’re here with you we mourn your loss, as you continue to heal from long COVID, and as you continue to pray that your loved ones are not similarly impacted.”
Speakers laid flowers at the park across Broadway from Elmhurst Hospital.
“To honor those we’ve lost, we’ll keep fighting on their behalf,” NYC Central Labor Council president Vincent Alvarez said. “To do that, we need to ensure that future generations will always have a strong voice in the workplace. That every worker has the tools to demand safer working conditions. And that’s why on this Workers Memorial Day, we are also fighting for passage of federal legislation known as the PRO Act, because we know that this will strengthen workers’ voices on the job, and protect their freedoms to organize and collectively bargain for safer working conditions.”