Press Releases

New York Unions and Labor Advocates Cheer Approval of Bill to Help Prevent Spread of COVID-19

New York unions and labor advocates today praised the New York State Senate’s Labor Committee for approving a bill to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The NY HERO Act (S.1034) – which received overwhelming support and unanimous approval from the Democratic members of the Labor committee – would require the state to create mandatory, enforceable health and safety standards for workplaces.

Currently, only nonbinding health and safety guidelines exist in New York, and it may take several months before the state has a sufficient supply of COVID-19 vaccines.

But the NY HERO Act, first introduced last week by co-sponsors Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris and Assemblymember Karines Reyes, would create clear and immediate protections against COVID-19 for essential frontline workers and others. Indeed, it would establish strong and enforceable standards for testing, PPE, social distancing, hand hygiene, disinfection, and engineering controls for ventilation.

The legislation has support from the NY Essential Workers Coalition, made up of over 65 unions, worker centers, immigrant rights organizations, legal service providers, health, climate, and safety organizations.  The coalition applauds Senate Labor Chair Jessica Ramos and NYS Labor Senate Committee for their swift approval of the NY HERO Act as Covid-19 cases and hospitalization rates surge, and as New Yorkers facing the alarming reality of waiting months for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Today, unions and labor advocates from the NY Essential Workers Coalition also called on the entire state legislature and Governor Cuomo to enact the The NY HERO Act.

“The swift passage of the NY HERO Act in NYS Senate Labor Committee is a huge victory for the health and safety of workers, communities, and small businesses vulnerable to COVID-19 infections. We urge the entire state legislature and Governor Cuomo to enact this bill quickly to protect essential frontline workers and businesses against the spread of COVID-19. Vaccination for all essential workers will take months, but the NY HERO Act can help protect workers and businesses against COVID-19 much faster, if it is enacted in the days ahead.  Thousands are hospitalized and hundreds of New Yorkers are dying of Covid daily as the more contagious UK-strain continues to spread. Every day counts when it comes to Covid health and safety. Let’s protect New Yorkers now with the NY HERO Act,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, Executive Director of ALIGN, the organization that created the NY Essential Worker Coalition. 

George Miranda, President, Teamsters Joint Council 16, said, “Workers have stayed on the job throughout the pandemic, treating the sick, moving supplies, and doing other essential jobs, too often without the safety protections they needed to avoid the virus. They can’t wait for a vaccine, they need workplace safety standards now. Thank you to Deputy Majority Leader Gianaris and Labor Chair Ramos for moving this legislation forward. We urge the Legislature to quickly pass the NY HERO Act and protect our worker heroes.”

Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, President of New York State Nurses Association, said, As the state’s infection and hospitalization rates surge at alarming rates and the variant virus strain threatens to spread rapidly, swift action must be taken to protect our frontline and essential workers. We thank bill sponsor Senator Gianaris, Labor Chair Senator Ramos, and the Senate Labor Committee for supporting the NY Hero Act, and urge the State Legislature to pass this important legislation. Our frontline healthcare workers are indispensable and must have the resources to keep New Yorkers alive. Let’s protect and provide them with the adequate PPE, sanitization supplies, and workers’ rights protections to slow the spread, save lives, and provide quality healthcare to all.

Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said, “We need enforceable standards at the state level to keep all working New Yorkers safe because of the federal government’s failure to ensure workplace safety. This must be a priority for Albany because it is a priority for all working New Yorkers. I want to thank the State Senate Labor Committee for voting in support of this critical legislation today. We’re one step closer to ensuring long term protections that will help millions of workers across New York.”

Dennis Trainor, Vice President, CWA District 1, said, “We’re nearly one year into this pandemic, and if the past 10 months have taught us anything, it’s that essential workers are the backbone of New York City and New York State. Our members are part of the workforce that has kept New York going and made it possible for others to work and learn from home. It’s long past time that we ensure that our essential workers are protected, and we applaud the NYS Labor Committee for taking this needed step, particularly the bill sponsor Senator Giannaris, and Senate Labor Committee Chair Jessica Ramos.”

“We are almost a year into a Global Pandemic with nearly 400,00 American lives lost and millions around the world; with positivity rates that rival, and in some cases, surpass the rates seen at the height of the pandemic; and we still have no enforceable workplace safety standards… this is completely unacceptable at a time when we are battling not only the original strain of the COVID19 virus but, now there are also mutated strains that are said to be even more contagious with very little known about their resistance to the current vaccines – which by the way, is being distributed in the most half-assed manner possible by the Federal Government! We are talking about Enforceable Workplace Safety Standards that need to be identified and set in place under the law NOW – so the DOL and/or OSHA can begin enforcing these standards to protect the very Essential Workers who helped to get us through this ordeal in the first place ! It’s time for the Elected Officials to come together and act on this legislation and GET IT PASSED in order to protect the workers on the frontlines,” said Louis Mark Carotenuto, President UFCW Local 2013.

Cecilia Davila, member leader of Laundry Workers Center, said, “New York’s workers, we have been under a lot of stress during the pandemic; bad employers don’t provide the equipment to protect us and do our jobs. We need the New York Heroes Act to make sure we have safe workplaces and to raise health and safety standards for all workers. As a laundry worker I call on all legislators to come together to save lives, not just for COVID but future infections diseases. No one deserve to die for lack of protections”

Workers would be given a direct role in monitoring and reporting violations through workplace health and safety committees that would be empowered to raise complaints and report violations. The bill would protect employees from retaliation for utilizing their rights under the law.

Charlene Obernauer, Executive Director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), said, “New York’s workers need to know that our State is doing everything it can to keep them safe during this pandemic, especially Black and Latinx essential workers, who are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. NY HERO is critical to ensuring that all workers are protected on the job with enforceable standards.”

Abigail Cook-Mack, Staff Attorney in the Employment Law Unit at The Legal Aid Society, said, “As the institutional legal services provider in New York City, we have seen firsthand the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on our clients and all essential workers. Nearly a year into the pandemic, we cannot wait any longer, and we must enact the NY HERO Act to guarantee protections for frontline workers who risk their lives every day to keep New York running. We thank the bill sponsors, Senators Gianaris and Reyes, and urge the Legislature to quickly pass this legislation to ensure that New Yorkers are protected now.”

Maria Jerez, member of the NY Nail Salon Workers Association, said, “We could die because we are not protected at work. It is not fair that we make money for the owners but when we get sick they do not have to take any responsibility for us. It is important for NY to pass a law to protect workers because we have families who depend on us and need us to stay alive.”

Paul Sonn, State Policy Program Director, National Employment Law Project, said, “Without mandated health and safety standards, too many companies still are not providing workers with the protection they need to stay safe in their workplaces. Equally alarming, it is common for businesses to punish workers who speak up about dangerous conditions on the job – and current federal and New York law do not adequately protect workers against such retaliation. Worker health is public health. If workers aren’t safe, the pandemic will only worsen. The National Employment Law Project applauds the NYS Labor Committee, the bill sponsor Senator Giannaris, and Senate Labor Committee Chair Jessica Ramos for championing this badly needed legislation. We would urge the legislature to act quickly to approve it.”

“No New Yorker should have to face the impossible choice between their health and their financial security – yet too many, especially Black and Latinx workers, have been left without protections for far too long. We thank Labor Chair Jessica Ramos and the Senate Labor Committee for recognizing the urgency of enacting enforceable regulations to prevent the spread of airborne infectious diseases in all workplaces, and for providing workers with important tools to put an end to retaliation for raising health and safety concerns.  We urge the State Legislature to pass the NY HERO Act without delay,” said Lisa Zucker, legislative attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Senate co-sponsors include Senate Labor Committee Chair Jessica Ramos and Senators Brian Benjamin, Andrew Gounardes, Robert Jackson, John W. Mannion Rachel May, Julia Salazar, Shelley B. Mayer, James Sanders, and Diane Savino.