As office buildings emptied and the streets in downtown Washington, D.C. grew quiet this year, workers like myself went to work—putting our lives and our families at risk. I clean federal office buildings in the nation’s capital. My job is to keep the most powerful federal officials safe from a deadly virus that has killed more than 200,000 Americans.
President Trump’s diagnosis with COVID-19 shocked the nation. But for me, the news that two housekeepers at the White House tested positive felt like a gut punch.
I’ve been deeply worried about the cleaners at Walter Reed Hospital, who are my brothers and sisters in my union 32BJ SEIU, and the White House housekeepers, butlers, ushers, florists and other service workers who’ve been callously exposed. I cannot stop thinking of the health of the Secret Service agents who were packed into an SUV with the windows closed, just so the President could wave to his supporters outside of the hospital.
They are in my thoughts and prayers.
To be clear, I take no comfort in the fact that the President must deal with the fear and uncertainty that so many people in my community have faced after contracting COVID-19. One of my beloved coworkers passed away from the virus and more than a dozen others have been infected.
But for $750 in taxes, the President has gold-standard healthcare and all the resources he will need to recover. In stark contrast, essential workers are unable to access quality healthcare and missing even a day of work can mean financial hardship. There have been 138 members in my union who’ve lost their lives due to COVID-19 and did not have the benefit of being rushed to Walter Reed for taxpayer-funded government medical care. Many of our members died in hospitals that were overwhelmed by the early outbreak made infinitely worse by the Trump administration’s failure to lead.
The tragic irony of it all is that the Rose Garden super spreader event was to nominate a Supreme Court justice whose first order of business will be to overturn the Affordable Care Act, taking healthcare and protections for people with pre-existing conditions away from millions of Americans.
We need elected leaders to provide more than thoughts and prayers. Leaders like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris who will take this public health crisis seriously and end this economic nightmare. Leaders who will respect us, protect us and pay us what we’re worth. Leaders who will fight for affordable and quality healthcare, paid medical and family leave, a $15 minimum wage and other issues impacting working people.
We need leaders who will not leave communities like mine behind. Because of race-based health and economic disparities in our country, it is no surprise that Black and brown workers and our families are bearing the brunt of this crisis. Tragically, Black and Latinx people are roughly two to three times more likely than their white counterparts to contract the coronavirus, roughly four times more likely to be hospitalized by it and nearly three times as likely to die from it.
Put simply, the reckless behavior of the President and his administration has threatened the lives of the very people tasked with taking care of them. Just yesterday, the President was boasting about heading back out on the campaign trail, and he returned to the Oval Office—exposing everyone in his orbit—rather than isolating himself in his residence.
The President seems to forget that the buildings we clean don’t belong to him—they belong to us. The White House is not his house, it’s the people’s house.
It’s time to get the job done and vote him out.
Bonita Williams is a cleaner of federal office buildings and member of 32BJ SEIU.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
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