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Every morning, rising well before the sun, I make an impossible choice.

At this time of national crisis, when Americans are being asked to stay home, I head to my job as a home healthcare aide — ready to face the disease that the world is hiding from. Alongside care and service workers across the country, I must risk being infected by the coronavirus or stay home, foregoing pay.

I care for four clients who are elderly or disabled, working about 65 hours a week for just over  $13 an hour. Without the protective equipment needed to keep me safe, I am nervous about contracting the virus and bringing it into my home, where I live with my mother who has several health conditions. I paid out of my own pocket to buy clothing covers and more gloves, but I have run out of masks.

The weight of this country is on workers’ shoulders — a country that is not adequately providing us a liveable wage, paid leave and quality healthcare if we get sick. It’s just not right.

Members of my union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), have been sounding alarms, calling on the government and big businesses to protect workers during this crisis. Black people helped build this country and, as we work on the frontlines, we deserve protection. SEIU workers are demanding fully-funded and accessible healthcare for every working person in America, including paid leave and 100% paid testing and treatment for the coronavirus. We are also demanding job, wage and economic security for every worker; an immediate investment in the health and safety of every worker; and a commitment to put working families at the center of every government emergency relief package.

With the race-based health and economic disparities in our country, it is no surprise that Black workers and our families are already bearing the brunt of this crisis. Nearly one in six low-wage workers in America are Black, and nearly 17% of Black people work in jobs considered most at-risk for a recession. Last week, our country hit a historic record as more than 26.5 million jobless claims were filed since March 14. Within our Black community, the rate of unemployment continues to be disproportionately higher than the national average.

Black people are at higher health risk from the coronavirus due to common pre-existing chronic conditions such as high-blood pressure and asthma that hits our community harder than other people in America. If infected, many of us will face entrenched barriers in the health system that prevent Black families from obtaining the care we need. In Chicago, where I live, Black people have represented 60% of the city’s fatalities and nearly 50% of cases, but only make up 30% of the city’s total population.

Elected officials and corporate CEOs must protect all working families during this global pandemic and put measures in place to ease the burdens that lead to Black families being the most impacted in times of crisis. Yes, the government must do everything in its power to protect those across the service sector — including janitors, security workers, fast-food workers and beyond. But powerful corporations must also show leadership by looking past their bottom lines to ensure the health and financial security of every employee.

There is no time to waste.

SEIU launched a #ProtectAllWorkers campaign and has been fighting around the clock for those on the frontlines and those at home who’ve fallen ill, are caring for loved ones or have lost their jobs. Workers across the country — some of us who have already had our pay cut or benefits stripped — are organizing, striking and bringing demands to our employers, including hospitals and corporate giants like McDonald’s and Amazon.

The resilience of Black frontline workers in these extraordinary times shows the best of humankind and the unshakable determination of working people. We cannot be left in the eye of the storm alone. It’s time for the most powerful to listen, do what’s right and protect all workers.


Adarra Benjamin is a home healthcare aide and member of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare Illinois.