by Pete Mazzaccaro Last week, I listened to an interview with SEIU president Mary Kay Henry. Henry’s union, Service Employees International Union, represents almost two million workers who are …
by Pete Mazzaccaro
Last week, I listened to an interview with SEIU president Mary Kay Henry. Henry’s union, Service Employees International Union, represents almost two million workers who are employed across a wide range of vocations including building services, public service employees and health care workers. In the interview with Vox media founder Ezra Klein, she wondered aloud what might have been different in this pandemic had health care workers she represents simply walked off the job.
Henry wasn’t talking about an organized strike, but simply the fact that the health care workers she represents are not nurses and doctors but personal health aides – the folks taking care of the sick and elderly in group living facilities like nursing homes, the places that have proven to be the most dangerous. Many of those people, she noted, make very little money, particularly given the enormous responsibility they have, entrusted with older and otherwise disabled loved ones who can’t care for themselves.
Henry’s point was that many of these people chose duty and responsibility, putting themselves at great risk for very little expected in return. Imagine what would have happen if a majority of those workers chose self-preservation before duty? What if a majority decided the low pay wasn’t worth risking not only their own health but the health of their families? How would their work get done during so great a time of need?
In the wake of Memorial Day, with numerous news stories of people acting both ignorantly and selfishly, as they crowded shore spots and other resorts around the country, largely ignoring all advice of health officials, the untold stories of heath care workers who opted for duty over their own health offers stark relief.
In this issue, we did our best to tell the stories of everyday heroes in fields ranging from ER doctors to grocery store workers. But heroes clearly come in many other varieties – far too many varieties for us to cover even in this extra-large issue dedicated to their stories.
Some like to make the case that we overuse the word hero, that the term should only be used to describe remarkable acts of bravery and sacrifice. That may be true, but for now, we don’t have a better way to recognize that so many acting out of everyday kindness, duty and responsibility have shown us that many of us, given the option, chose to act in heroic ways. We make sacrifices. We chose to help others. We show up when it might seem to make more sense to simply stay away.
So no, I don’t think it’s too much to use hero in this context. Perhaps the scale has been small, and the acts unheralded, but they are heroic just the same. So thank you to everyone who has chosen to do something to help someone else. Not everyone makes that choice. And for that, you’re a hero.