LETTER: Greenwich’s Essential Workers Deserve Better

Submitted by Brian O’Connor

When the COVID-19 pandemic set in, our leaders told us that we should do everything we can to make it easier for the people who keep our town, state, and country moving. These brave people became known as “essential workers”—a nod to how vital their jobs are, even though they rarely got enough credit before the pandemic took hold. 

Although cheering, banging pots and pans, and putting up lawn signs thanking essential workers are all thoughtful gestures, they pale in comparison to actual gratitude. In fact, a major swath of essential workers right here in Greenwich have gone without a labor contract from Town Hall for almost two years.

If Greenwich leaders truly value essential workers, then they need to show it where it counts: in a long-overdue contract for Teamsters Local 456.

Since June 30, 2019, Certified Nursing Assistants and Licensed Practicing Nurses at the Nathaniel Witherell have not been given a contract. Instead, they have worked in good faith that our town leadership will do what’s right. But now, as the protracted contract battle continues, it has become more than apparent that these essential workers may not be seen by Town Hall as the heroes they actually are.

The same can be said of the custodial and maintenance crews that keep our schools clean, safe, and functioning. As can it be said for park gardeners, tree crews, and the operators that keep the Grass Island Wastewater Treatment Plant operating in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic.

We appreciate—and depend—on what these essential workers provide for us all. They do not have the luxury of working remotely or keeping six feet apart from those who need them. Many of the people, merely asking Greenwich for a fair contract, did so without hesitation and kept our loved ones safe, whether they live at Nathaniel Witherell or elsewhere.

We all expect to be paid appropriately for the work we do. And yet, many around the country are failing our essential workers in terms of paying livable wages. This is true in Greenwich as well. But what makes Greenwich different is the millions of dollars made in conveyance fees, permitting fees, and a real estate boom that has made the average home sale in the town skyrocket. Even without these phenomena, a town such as ours needs to make its gratitude more than mere platitudes. 

Fred Camillo, Mary Pepe, and members of the RTM Labor Contracts Committee must do more to do right by our essential workers. They were there for us when we needed them the most; we now need to do the same for them.