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Under Pressure From Worker Advocates, Cuomo Signs NY HERO Act Into Law

Members of the NY Essential Workers coalition – including doctors and nurses – rally in front of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Midtown offices last week.

New York, NY – Governor Andrew Cuomo finally signed the NY HERO Act into law on May 5, just weeks before the state is set to more fully emerge out of COVID-19 lockdown. 

The first-of-its-kind legislation establishes permanent, enforceable health and safety standards aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 and other airborne diseases in the workplace.

More than 52,000 New Yorkers, many of them essential workers who did not have the luxury of staying home during the pandemic, have lost their lives to COVID-19 since the first case was reported in the state back on March 1, 2020.

Cuomo wants restaurants, retail stores, movie theaters and museums operating at nearly full capacity by May 19.

Section 1 of the New York HERO Act, requiring employers to implement those hard-fought health and safety standards in the workplace, goes into effect on June 4. While Section 2, which compels all private employers to allow workers to form health and safety committees — in concert with their bosses — to review and monitor health and safety policies, doesn’t go into effect until November 1. 

Worker advocates have been fighting for the establishment of enforceable workplace safety standards throughout much of the ongoing pandemic.

Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of ALIGN and a central figure in the NY Essential Workers Coalition, nevertheless, says the NY HERO Act will play a “key role in protecting essential workers and businesses across the state” in the weeks ahead. 

“This law is a major new national precedent for how to create enforceable health and safety protections for workers on the front lines of the COVID pandemic and give workers a voice on the job through health and safety committees,” she said in a statement. 

Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, head of the New York State Nurses Association [NYSNA], said that “all workers deserve to work in safe conditions without fear of reprisal or losing their jobs.” Indeed, an all too common feature of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The passage of the NY Hero Act shows that it’s never too late to right a wrong and to ensure that justice is served. No worker should suffer—or die—for simply doing their job,” she said. 

The Health and Essential Rights Act, or HERO Act hit Cuomo’s desk April 23. Its implementation into law, in addition to the Safe Staffing Act, represent major gains for essential workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, and once again, demonstrate the power of collective action. 

Not surprisingly, COVID-19 has hit poor people and people of color  disproportionately hard.

“Immigrant and BIPOC New Yorkers have too long faced the impossible choice of maintaining their health or their jobs, at great cost to their family security and well-being during this pandemic,” said Murad Awawdeh, executive director, New York Immigration Coalition.

Thomas Gesualdi, president of Teamsters Joint Council 16, said that his members, along with other essential workers often stayed on the job throughout the pandemic without the fundamental protections. 

“As COVID continues to circulate and more New Yorkers return to work, the NY HERO Act will ensure that workers have the enforceable standards they need to do their jobs safely and go home to their families,” he said. 

Dennis Trainor, vice-president, CWA District 1, called the signing of the NY HERO Act into law a “huge win for frontline workers who heroically kept our state functioning during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“After more than a year of this public health crisis, we are finally standing up for our essential workers and taking real action by ensuring there are enforceable health and safety standards that employers must abide by,” he said. “We also know that workers are best positioned to keep themselves safe, and we are pleased this bill creates joint employee-employer worker committees that will give workers the voice they need  to raise serious health and safety concerns with management.”

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