Workers from transportation, healthcare, construction, retail, and many other industries joined together to call on the State Legislature today to protect workers from a second wave of COVID-19, as New York City enters Phase 3 reopening. Enforceable requirements are necessary to ensure that every worker receives personal protective equipment (PPE), that businesses allow workers to socially distance, and that whistleblowers are protected from retaliation.
“As New York City enters Phase 3 of reopening, the fight to protect essential workers is far from over,” said Maritiza Silva-Farrell, Executive Director of ALIGN NY. “COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising to new heights across the country. Yet, our essential workers — mostly Black and Latinx workers — remain inadequately protected, months after New York shut down. How many more deaths among our frontline workers is it going to take to provide basic, common sense protections? The New York State Governor and Legislature must swiftly and urgently provide our frontline workers more protections and power in their workplace.”
Jackson Heights, the site of today’s press conference, is home to many immigrants and essential workers, who worked through the worst of the pandemic without enforceable protections. Black and Latino communities have died from COVID-19 at twice the rate of white Americans, and make up the majority of the more than 20,000 New Yorkers lost to the pandemic.
“As businesses reopen across the state, thousands of food workers are being asked to return to unsafe workplaces. And essential workers who never stopped working — the majority Black and Latinx workers — still don’t have the mandatory protections they need,” said Sonia Singh, Co-Director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance. “New York state must step up to protect essential workers and their communities now.”
“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 enter phase 3 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 legislation to protect essential workers, to address these inequities and center the hardest-hit communities.”
The Trump Administration has failed to issue any standards protecting workers from COVID-19. Despite thousands of worker complaints from across the country, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has only issued one enforcement action.
“Almost four months have passed since COVID-19 entered New York State and still workers don’t have the basic protections that they need to do their jobs safely,” said Charlene Obernauer, Executive Director, NYCOSH. “Black and Latinx workers in particular are disproportionately more likely to be essential workers and therefore to lack these protections. New York State needs to act now to protect workers.” “As New York continues to reopen, essential workers are still not adequately protected across the state. New York lags behind other similar states in consistently and clearly requiring all employers to provide masks and other PPE, workplaces that guarantee social distancing, and other basic protections. It is urgent that the legislature and the governor act quickly to fill these gaps,” said Debbie Berkowitz, Health & Safety Program Director, National Employment Law Project.
“We only need to look around the country to see why New York must take bold steps to protect its workers from a second wave of COVID-19,” said George Miranda, President of Teamsters Joint Council 16. “While the Trump administration offers only voluntary guidance for companies, New York leaders must step in and hold employers legally accountable to provide PPE and sanitary facilities. This is about more than worker rights, it’s about public health.” With New York City entering Phase 3 of reopening, which includes nail salons and tattoo parlors, more workers are returning to work without the regulations they need to prevent exposure to COVID-19.
“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 80% of workers experienced wage theft in the nail salon industry, where owners already failed to provide adequate personal protective equipment to workers,” said Maria LLivicura, member of the New York Nail Salon Workers Association. “Now that New York City is entering Phase 3, the main concern of our members is that things will get worse. We are majority-immigrant women and more than 30% are single mothers, who lack health insurance, which once again will have a negative impact on our communities of color. We are raising our voice so the state can take legislative action, protect essential workers, stop the spread of the virus, and halt the senseless deaths.”
“At Make the Road NY, our members in domestic cleaning, delivery, warehousing, and retail are working on the frontlines with little protections and are excluded from state and federal benefits,” said Angeles Solis, Lead Organizer of Make the Road New York. “Nearly 54% of essential workers are immigrant and foreign born. We must protect the backbone of our community. We need the NY Heroes Act to ensure maximum safety and protection for our most vulnerable New Yorkers.”
“New York needs to step up and step in where the federal government has refused to do so,” said Richard Blum, Staff Attorney, Employment Law Unit, The Legal Aid Society. “Our clients and all workers across the state need established, enforceable workplace standards to protect their health and lives against COVID-19, as well as to protect the health and lives of their families and communities. In particular, the State must mandate clear rules for employers and create meaningful enforcement of those rules in order to protect all of New York’s workers, and most especially those from the black and brown communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.”
New COVID-19 cases are rising in over 30 states, showing that the threat of a second wave is real. Many of the states reopened without providing adequate protection for their workers. “Essential workers and low-wage workers that make up our base are some of the most at risk physically and financially in this crisis,” said Rosanna Rodriguez, Co-Director Laundry Workers Center. “They are working in laundromats, warehouses, and food service without safety protections, without paid sick time, and without job security. This is not only a threat for those working but for their families and for our public health. Laundromat workers are at an even greater risk, handling bags of soiled clothing without proper protection. We demand the governor and legislators take the adequate safety protocol, including adequate PPE, paid sick days for all, rapid and accurate diagnostic testing of workers, and worker training. We need the HERO Act Now.”
At the press conference, workers shared their stories of being exposed to coronavirus on the job and not being given adequate masks or the ability to socially distance. Joined by labor and community supporters, workers urged state leaders to step in.
“Workers of color have borne the brunt of COVID-19 for America,” said Sean T. Campbell, President of Teamsters Local 813. “Our communities have done the majority of essential jobs that allowed others to remain at home and we have died from the disease at far higher rates. While the federal government does nothing for these workers, one way New York can show that Black Lives Matter is by passing legislation to give workers every protection they need to stay safe from a second wave of COVID-19.”