Op-Ed | In the absence of national leadership, workers are stepping up

man with a briefcase and a surgical mask
closeup of a young man in an office holding a briefcase and a surgical mask in his hand
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By Vladimir Clairjeune

I used to be the uniformed employee who checked your ticket when you got in line to board a plane. Then air travel came to a halt, and the billion-dollar airline industry laid off service workers like me by the thousands.

The airlines were awarded billions in bailout money while working people were given a stiff, one-time payment from the federal government and unemployment benefits that don’t cut it anymore. Donald Trump’s policies caused a crisis for working people who have kept this country together while the pandemic ravages the nation.

I believe a majority of working people are united in electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris this year. Like thousands of my union brothers and sisters, I’ve dedicated my time to getting out the vote for the Biden-Harris ticket. We’ve reached over one million voters in battleground states Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida, and registered over 6,000 people in just a few weeks.

The pandemic proved the strength of working people who have stood united in the face of massive layoffs or increased demands at work, often without basics such as PPE, healthcare and paid sick leave. My airport coworkers on the frontlines often don’t have healthcare, even in this pandemic, while the world travels to them. It’s unfair that we don’t have a leader who can protect us, and that we have to save this country from Trump while holding the economy on our backs. But electing the right leaders will help us get out of this mess.

We have accomplished this despite the odds against us as Black and brown people who have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. There were 138 of my union brothers and sisters who lost their lives to COVID, and Black people are twice as likely to die of COVID as white people, which could have been avoided if we had the right leadership.

Biden is ready to protect essential workers by listening to unions to protect frontline workers and expanding unemployment benefits. Black and brown people will reap the benefits of ACA extensions that Biden will put in place. This will end so much suffering in our communities, get businesses moving again and kids back in school.

Four years later, Trump has shown action by action, policy by policy, that he does not care about us, not essential workers, not Black people, not Latinos, not immigrants. Even though he has felt the effects of this deadly virus firsthand, he wanted to stop providing more support to the millions still suffering who need it by stalling relief packages for Americans.

We must show up at the polls this year and elect Biden-Harris. This election is life and death.

Vladimir Clairjuene is a passenger service representative at John F. Kennedy International Airport. He lives in Queens.

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