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Teamsters Fight for COVID Safety

Labor Unions, Safety Experts Applaud Worker Protection Extension

Today, Governor Hochul’s Department of Health extended the NY HERO Act, designating COVID-19 as a continued risk to public health and ensuring that worker protections remain in place following the rollback of indoor mask mandates. Members of the New York Essential Workers Coalition, a statewide group of over 75 labor unions, worker centers, advocacy groups, and community organizations that won the fight to pass NY HERO last year, responded:

“The NY HERO Act sets strong protections to keep workers across New York safe from COVID-19 exposure at work. Our members are essential workers who stayed on the job through the worst of the pandemic to keep supply lines moving. Many caught COVID-19 while doing their jobs and we fought for the NY HERO Act to ensure that would never happen again. We commend New York State for extending its designation of COVID-19 to keep these safeguards in place. The pandemic remains a threat and workers have the right to do their jobs without fearing for their health or their families’ safety,” said Thomas Gesualdi, President of Teamsters Joint Council 16.

“This pandemic is not over and is still dangerous for essential workers who risk their lives every day on the job,” said Charlene Obernauer, Executive Director of NYCOSH. “Omicron numbers are headed in the right direction, but are still too high in New York State to go back to normal. New York’s workers can continue to rely on NY HERO to support healthy and safe jobs during this difficult time.”

“The 42,000 nurses of the New York State Nurses Association applaud the re-extension of the NY HERO Act,” said Pat Kane, Executive Director of NYSNA. “As nurses on the frontline of patient care, working around the clock and seeing firsthand the destruction of COVID-19, we know that we can’t throw in the towel now. We know the importance of staying vigilant and preventing another uptick in cases.  We are now in a position where we have so many tools at our disposal.  We must be smart as we enter this next phase of the pandemic. The re-extension of the NY HERO Act is crucial in helping us finally get in front of it rather than have it sneak up on us and overtake us again.”

“Whether COVID cases are rising or falling, workers need protection on the job. We applaud the DOH for extending the NY HERO Act, which is workers’ only safeguard with the mask mandate lifted. Now it’s time to protect them permanently. Governor Hochul must prioritize investing $50 million in enforcement, education, training, and ventilation upgrades to fully realize the vision of NY HERO.” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, Executive Director of ALIGN NY, which leads the NY Essential Workers coalition.

On behalf of thousands of essential workers at Make the Road New York, Angeles Solis, Lead Organizer said, “The pandemic forced mostly Black, brown and immigrant New Yorkers to the forefront of precarious work. While hailed as heroes – ‘essential worker’ put a target on their back for COVID-19. We’ve seen the consequences when there are no enforceable standards. Suggested guidelines are not enough. With the designation re-extended, NY HERO protections will continue to ensure maximum safety and health for our most vulnerable New Yorkers.”

“I can say from experience that COVID is still very present in New York, and that the virus continues to endanger my patients and my coworkers, as well as their families—and particularly New Yorkers of color,” said Dr. Marco Brenciaglia of Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, a CIR member. “Given that, I’m pleased and relieved that the Department of Health has decided to extend the NY Hero Act, which provides crucial protections for all New Yorkers. I’m grateful for the advocacy of labor unions, elected officials, and community organizations in securing this very important extension.”

“It is great that COVID infection rates are dropping so quickly, but they are still elevated compared to much of the pandemic. It will be important to keep the NY HERO protections in place until the rates are persistently low,” said Steven Markowitz MD, DrPH, Director of Barry Commoner Center for Health & the Environment, CUNY.

“WJCNY applauds Governor Hochul for extending the designation of COVID-19 as a significant public health threat under the NY HERO Act. Despite the recent decline in new cases, thousands of New Yorkers are still testing positive for COVID each day. The workplace protections provided under NY HERO remain critical to preventing the further spread of COVID and, consequently, reducing COVID-related deaths and long-term illness. The extension of this designation will help reduce workplace hazards and protect workers who speak out about unsafe working conditions,” said Emma Kreyche, Director of Advocacy, Outreach & Education, Worker Justice Center of New York.

About New York Essential Workers Coalition

The Essential Workers Coalition is composed of unions, worker centers, immigrant rights organizations, legal service providers, health and safety organizations, and community-based organizations. The coalition saw that working people were denied the basic right to a safe and healthy workplace, and together moved to build a statewide movement to protect our NY heroes. After a year-long fight, this coalition celebrated a monumental victory with the signing of the NY HERO Act into law, enshrining a worker-led vision of health and safety for our communities.