Coalition Urges Governor Cuomo to Enact Health and Essential Rights Order to Limit Spread of COVID-19 as Economy Re-Opens
Today, a top epidemiologist from the Obama administration joined health and safety experts, impacted workers, advocates, and labor unions to urge Governor Cuomo to enact a New York Health and Essential Rights Order (NY H.E.R.O) to limit the spread of COVID-19 as the state takes steps to re-open its economy.
David Michaels, a nationally-known epidemiologist and former Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under President Obama, was among the key participants in a press call to discuss how Cuomo can structure and implement the proposed executive order to improve health and safety protocols in New York’s workplaces.
Every day, more than two million frontline workers across the state must leave their homes and report to jobs in essential sectors. They risk potentially exposing themselves, their families, and their communities to COVID-19. Many are still not receiving adequate PPE and work in facilities that do not practice social distancing. Without increased protections, these workers are at risk of exposure to a second surge of COVID-19 in New York, participants in the press call said.
The push for Cuomo to enact the NY H.E.R.O. comes amid the federal government failing to take action to protect workers from COVID-19 infection on the job. Under Trump, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has also refused to investigate any complaints from workers outside the healthcare industry.
The advocacy organization ALIGN helped organize today’s press call in collaboration with workers and a broad range of organizations to advance a shared vision of how Cuomo can protect essential employees and public health as New York’s economy re-opens. These organizations have also launched a petition calling on Cuomo to enact the NY H.E.R.O.
An archived version of today’s press call is available on ALIGN’s Facebook page .
“By supporting the NY H.E.R.O, Governor Cuomo can lead in creating a nationwide approach to protect essential workers and communities against a second surge of COVID-19. We urge Governor Cuomo to implement this crucial executive order right away. It will improve health and safety in essential businesses while empowering workers to speak out against the risks of COVID-19 without fear of retaliation. Essential workers are mainly women, immigrants, and people of color. As we reopen the economy, this executive order will help ensure they are treated with dignity and respect, and will save lives,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, Executive Director of ALIGN.
“Essential workers do the jobs that our society needs during this emergency, but the federal government has failed to protect them at work,” said George Miranda, President of Teamsters Joint Council 16. “Too many workers are not getting the PPE they need or are working at companies that are slow to react to COVID-19 infections. New York has an opportunity to put forward a model for the nation of how to ensure worker health and safety as the economy reopens.”
“Protecting workers’ health and safety must be a priority for workers on the job now, and as New Yorkers return to work. HERO lays out a plan for how we can do just that. The stakes are too high to return to business as usual, we need Governor Cuomo to implement the Health and Essential Rights Order now,” said Charlene Obernauer, Executive Director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH).
“Make the Road members who have had no choice but to keep working in essential services are risking their lives to serve our city in this pandemic. Far too many have lost their lives. Our members in kitchens, delivery, warehouses and caregiving settings are organizing for increased protections and benefits, including a voice at the table with.Pandemic Response committees. We need a Health and Essential Rights Order that protects every worker and our communities,” said Deborah Axt, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York (MRNY).
“Stopping COVID transmission in the workplace is necessary for saving lives and controlling the pandemic. But the Trump Administration is abandoning its responsibility to workers, particularly New York’s frontline workers, 75% of whom are Black, Latinx or Asian in New York City. Many still do not yet have adequate safety equipment, or workplaces that allow for social distancing. That is why New Yorkers need Governor Cuomo to mandate the common sense, science-based protections outlined in the NY HERO proposal – including strong whistleblower protections to end the wave of retaliation against workers who sound the alarm about dangerous work conditions,” said Paul Sonn, State Policy Program Director at the National Employment Law Project (NELP).
“We must guarantee that all essential workers have the necessary protective equipment and legal protections they need to do their jobs safely and properly,” said Bob Master, Assistant to the Vice President, CWA District One. “Furthermore, workers must have an established workplace voice in protecting their own safety. Every essential workplace must have a worker-led committee which is empowered to raise safety concerns and be consulted in reopening decisions. The path to a new, safe normal will not be successful without the voice of workers being heard.”
“Being an essential worker during this time has been extremely stressful fearing for my health and the health of my family. A lot of my coworkers have gotten infected. Everyday all of us workers see so many people come into the store without masks and not care about any social distancing,” said Roccio Fermin, Pharmacy Technician at Duane Reade and union member of the NY NJ Regional Joint Board, Workers United/SEIU. “Duane Reade was supposed to be providing us three masks a week, but that never happened and I had to go find masks myself.
“As essential workers, we can’t continue having to work and live this way. We need New York State to step in and make sure all essential workers are protected and provided with the PPE that they need. Our members work in all manner of essential jobs, from warehousing and delivering sanitary supplies, to picking up the trash, to burying the deceased,” said Sean Campbell, President of Teamsters Local 813. “It isn’t enough to applaud these workers and call them ‘heroes.’ We need legal requirements that ensure they are as safe as possible while doing the jobs that keep the rest of us safe.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose an existential threat to nurses, essential workers and the public at large—that’s why New York needs to reopen responsibly,” said New York State Nurses Association Board Member Sean Petty, RN. “We have already seen the disproportionate impact that this public health and economic crisis has had on low income communities and communities of color, and we need strong interventions from the State of New York, including unprecedented taxation of New York State’s billionaires, to address these inequities and center the hardest-hit communities.”
“Food workers in New York State – from farm workers to processing, warehouse, and retail workers – are still on the job providing essential services. Yet, employers are still refusing to provide workers with basic protections putting workers’ lives at risk every day,” said Suzanne Adely, Food Chain Workers’ Alliance. Workers are organizing for safer conditions and need enforceable health and safety standards and protection against retaliation when they speak up. We urge Governor Cuomo to adopt the Health and Essential Rights Order now to keep all workers and our communities safe.”
“The governor and other elected officials talk about how immigrants have been disproportionately impacted by the lethal force of the coronavirus. And yet, our immigrant neighbors are a mere afterthought when it comes to economic relief. They are essential but excluded. They are New Yorkers but treated as outsiders by the Governor. We are demanding an economic relief plan that includes all workers, regardless of immigration status. Supporting all workers during a crisis is in everyone’s interest to flatten the curve; for better or worse we’re all in this together, and we have seen that an outbreak in a community doesn’t stay confined to a community,” said Yesenia Mata, executive director of La Colmena.
“Workers on factory floors across our state, like those at bus manufacturer New Flyer’s Jamestown plant, have raised concerns about potentially dangerous conditions at work during this pandemic. New York needs to take immediate action to protect all workers from retaliation when raising safety concerns. Workers should urgently receive proper PPE to do their jobs safely. Additionally, our state must make sure employers implement proper physical distancing guidelines, so that workers are not forced to return to crowded factories and workplaces. We call on Gov. Cuomo to implement the HERO order promptly — because worker health is public health,” said Miranda Nelson, New York Director of Jobs to Move America.
“Workers’ Justice Project (WJP) members, mostly Latinx, low-wage immigrant workers are on the front lines of fighting this global pandemic, as they work in dangerous workplaces where they face exploitation, abuse and workplace violations. Among those most impacted are day laborers and domestic workers, who are essential for the economy, but their labor is undervalued and have been excluded from equal protections for decades. It is time for New York to provide health and safety protections to all essential workers who keep our city running,” said Ligia Guallpa, Executive Director of Worker’s Justice Project (WJP).