NYC Workers Call for State Legislation to Protect Workplaces and Control the Virus
Essential workers who survived the first wave of Covid-19 rallied today urging state leaders to pass legislation that will keep workers safe as Covid-19 rates are spiking and lockdowns are being reinstated across parts of New York. The legislation, known as the NY HERO Act, would mandate the Departments of Labor and Health to implement enforceable safety standards in workplaces and establish worker safety committees to monitor and report compliance.
Workers from healthcare, transportation, sanitation, and other industries rallied outside of Lenox Health Greenwich Village as part of a statewide week of action in support of the NY HERO Act, orNew York Health & Essential Rights Act, sponsored by Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris and Assemblymember Karines Reyes.
“It was never a question of whether a second or third wave of Covid-19 would hit New York. It was a question of whether we would be prepared for it,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, Executive Director of ALIGN NY. “The virus has proven to be highly dangerous and unpredictable, and giving workers the tools and protections they need will be key to being prepared to control this pandemic. The NY HERO Act will prevent any more unnecessary deaths and make New York stronger and more resilient in the future.”
At the press conference, workers shared their stories working through the first wave of the pandemic: catching the virus on the job, employers not providing proper protective equipment, unsanitary working conditions, and social distancing not enforced.
Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union said, “The federal government’s abysmal failure to ensure workplace safety during the pandemic has necessitated that New York pass its own NY Heroes Act. We need to create enforceable standards to keep all working New Yorkers safe – and not just for today, but also into the future. We thank Senator Gianaris and Assembly Member Reyes for promoting this proposed legislation, which would help keep the working people of our state safe.”
George Miranda, President, Teamsters Joint Council 16 said, “Essential workers sacrificed so that New York could get through the first wave of COVID-19. They put their health on the line and risked bringing the virus home to their families. It would be a tragedy if a second wave came to New York and essential workers once again had to go to work without masks, gloves, or basic sanitary protections. The New York State Legislature must pass the NY HERO Act to protect our essential workers and show them the respect they deserve.”
“We are in a critical moment for nurses, other essential workers and patients as COVID-19 cases rise in New York,” said NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez. “After applauding frontline healthcare workers as heroes, it’s time the State Legislature step up and avoid treating us as martyrs. Healthcare workers must have the resources so that we can continue saving lives and deliver quality healthcare for New Yorkers. Legislators must pass the NY HERO Act to prepare for a second wave and provide adequate PPE, sanitization supplies, and workers’ rights protections.”
In the absence of the federal administration to issue adequate safety measures against Covid-19, workers called for state leaders to take action urgently in order to prevent the further acceleration of spread of the current Covid-19 spikes occurring in New York and across the country.
Crispin Hernandez, Organizer with the Workers Center of Central New York said, “Farmworkers work in one of the most dangerous industries in the country, for decades we have endured hazardous living and working conditions and lack of basic labor protections. This pandemic has made our lives even more vulnerable. During COVID, we didn’t stop working, we didn’t quarantine, on the contrary, for a lot of us work has never been more intense. People are finally seeing our contributions, we are finally recognized as essential, but we have always been essential. And now we need the laws in New York state to treat us as such. Under the NY HERO Act, we won’t have to depend on our employers to have protections, we will have a voice in the workplace to protect ourselves.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 30,000 New Yorkers. Throughout this crisis, our essential workers have been true heroes, putting their lives on the line each day to keep our State’s families safe,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF-Manhattan). “As we begin to reopen the State and more workers return to work, we must ensure that their health remains a top priority and that all workplaces have adequate protections in place. The New York Health & Essential Rights Act will guarantee that not one person who returns to work has to do so at the cost of risking their health or the health of loved ones at home.”
Lisa Zucker, NYCLU Legislative Attorney said, “Throughout the pandemic, frontline workers have had to face impossible choices between their health and safety, and their employment and financial security. Workers know what they need best and we are on the verge of another peak in this crisis. We can’t continue to leave them, and others returning to work, without adequate protections. The NY HERO Act will give all workers a stronger voice in the workplace, and the tools needed to protect themselves from retaliation when raising concerns.”
“Enough is enough – going to work should not be a death sentence. The NY HERO Act would create and enforce meaningful COVID-19 precautions in the workplace, saving lives and protecting public health,” said Luis Gomez, Organizing Director of the NY/NJ Regional Joint Board. “Everyone deserves to come home safely at the end of the day.”
NY HERO Act will allow workers to form health and safety committees to monitor and report violations. This legislation will also provide legal protection for workers who raise concerns in order to prevent employer retaliation.
“Seven months into the pandemic and there are still no laws holding employers accountable for keeping workers safe from the deadly COVID-19 virus,” said Kate Leon, workers rights outreach project coordinator with Citizen Action of New York and the Public Policy and Education Fund of New York. “As businesses re-open, more New Yorkers will be exposed to the virus, putting workers, their families and the general public at risk, and increasing the likelihood of a second wave among vulnerable communities. Black and Latinx workers, who are on the frontlines of this crisis without adequate personal protection equipment (PPE), will bear the brunt of exposure. We recently learned that tens of thousands of Amazon workers have contracted the virus. At the same time, we have seen Jeff Bezos’ wealth skyrocket. This is unconscionable. Knowing all that we know now about the novel COVID-19 virus, New York needs minimum, enforceable workplace safety standards to stop the spread. It’s past time to put people over profits.”
Richard Blum, The Legal Aid Society said, “Our clients and all essential workers who have kept New York running during this unprecedented public health crisis deserve adequate workplace protections and safety standards. As we face a potential second wave of infections, we must pass the NY HERO Act to ensure that workers stay safe and mitigate the devastating impact that the pandemic has already caused.”
With indoor dining facilities reopening and school staff and students returning to in-person learning, more workers and their communities are without regulations and protections to prevent a second surge in their neighborhoods.
The NY HERO Act is supported by more than 100 labor, community, and safety organizations.