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Bosses Failing to Protect NY Workers From COVID-19 Could Face New Fines

New York, NY—New York State Senator Michael Gianaris (D, WF) on Wednesday, stood with public and private sector workers to announce a new bill that will set up enforceable standards for workplace safety and carry penalties for employers who violate the standards. (Watch Video Below)

Senator Gianaris made the announcement outside Bellevue Hospital as numerous workers across different sectors told their stories of what it’s like working during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It is necessary, it is important, it will save lives and it is the least we can do as we seek to recover and get ourselves back on our feet,” Gianaris said.

With 75-percent of the more than 1 million workers deemed essential in New York City being Black and Latinx, Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of ALIGN, says the lack of workplace protection is also a racial justice issue, as well.

“What we’re here to talk about today is the importance of passing legislation that would ensure that workers would have protections and there would be requirements and standards that would allow for employers to be held accountable,” Silva-Farrell said.

According to Gianaris, that the enforceable standards will apply towards standards for cleanliness, PPE [Personal Protection Equipment] and hand washing — all of the things that have been necessary to contain COVID-19 over the past six months will now be required of workplaces to provide for their employees. 

Additionally, the bill contains language that will empower workers on the job to make sure that they can monitor and report violations by setting up workplace safety committees that can identify problems in the implementation of the law. 

“We have seen the statistics that show that COVID has had a disproportionate impact on working class people, on communities of color, and that’s because they are the people who were working throughout this pandemic,” Gianaris said. “Let’s provide this protection as quickly as we can, to provide safety and save lives going forward.” 

Many of the workers at the event welcomed the new legislation.  

Maria Jerez has been a nail salon worker for 15 years and is a member of the New York Nail Salon Workers Association. She and her co-workers tested positive for the coronavirus, she said, because the nail salon owners did not provide proper PPE. Jerez had to use her own money to buy the necessary gear to protect her health. 

According to Jerez, the nail salon owners made workers sign papers a few weeks ago, stating that the bosses could not be held responsible if employees got sick from COVID or any other illness. 

“It is not fair that we are making money for the owners but when we get sick, they don’t have to take any responsibility for us,” Jerez said. “It is important that New York pass a law to protect workers because we have families who depend on us and need us to continue living.”

Francine Streich, the field director for UCFW Local 2013, read a statement from a grocery worker who didn’t want to give his last name fearing retribution. In March, Eric learned that someone in the repack area had developed COVID-19 symptoms.

Five days later Eric developed a fever, and lost the sense of smell and taste. He said his head hurt and he couldn’t touch his right side without feeling a lot of pain. 

When Eric did return to work, he learned that a total of 30 workers had gotten sick, but his manager simply downplayed the illnesses.

“I asked him what was happening with COVID-19, they told me everything was OK, everything was clean and that it was something mental, that there was no virus in the company,” Eric said. “Now we’re back at work and we still don’t have gloves, we’re not social distancing, and we’re afraid that this is going to come back again. We need the aids and protections; we need the New York Heroes Act to be approved so that we are safe.” 

Senator Gianaris later reemphasized that employers will, indeed, face fines if they don’t provide necessary protections, under new legislation.

“There would be substantial fines consistent with existing labor law violations that would be implemented on employers who don’t follow the rules,” he said.

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