New York, NY – Now that the NYS Legislature has finally approved the HERO Act, worker advocates are pushing Governor Andrew Cuomo to waste no time signing legislation establishing enforceable workplace safety protections against COVID-19 and other airborne infectious diseases.
“We don’t want amendments to the law — this is the law,” ALIGN Executive Director Maritza Silva-Farrell told reporters on Wednesday, April 21. “This is the law. It took us a year to develop this policy. We don’t want any amendments, there is no need for it.”
The State Senate passed the New York Health and Essential Rights Act or HERO Act for a second time this week, after the Assembly sent it back to the upper house following its own approval, although with some edited language.
All that’s left now to enact the new legislation, is for Governor Cuomo to sign it — the new safety standards, which include fundamental protections like masks and hand sanitizers, as well as the establishment of worker safety committees — would go into affect 30 days after that.
More than 50,000 New Yorkers — an untold number of them workers on the front lines of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — have already succumbed to the highly infectious disease.
“We have one more step to go to get this legislation passed,” State Senator Michael Gianaris [D, WF – 12th District] said. “Let’s get the last step done.”
Assembly Member Karines Reyes [D-87th District], another legislator, who along with Gianaris, championed the NY HERO Act, said that the measure will be a “model” for the entire nation which still lacks enforceable safety standards against the spread of COVID-19 and its increasing variants more than a year into the pandemic.
“There are still many pandemic deniers out there,” the legislator and Registered Nurse said. “These are guidelines that are concrete. It’s super, super important.”
Empire State business interests continue to pressure Governor Cuomo to reject or water down the NY HERO act, calling it a costly mandate that will be a “Knockout punch for upstate’s small business community.”
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Workers Union [RWDSU], however, said some employers disregarded the safety of their own employees — sometimes, out of ignorance, but not always — and urged Governor Cuomo to sign the measure into law as soon as possible.
“The pandemic is not ending, nor are the dangers it creates,” Appelbaum said.
Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, head of the New York State Nurses Association [NYSNA], invoked the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1919, and said that history has shown that employees can’t rely on the bosses to protect them.
“Only when tragedies occur does change happen,” she said.
Jacobi Medical Center Emergency physician Kaushal Khambhati said first responders like him don’t want to be called heroes, they want to be protected.
“It can feel like we’re almost through this pandemic,” he said. “But that really isn’t the case. We need further measures to carry us through. We’re almost there. We’re standing on the precipice.”
The NY HERO Act protects businesses as much as employees, according to ALIGN’s executive director.
“Many of us clapped for the workers,” Silva-Farrell added. “That has been nice, but we heard from workers that that is not enough.”
UFCW Local 2013 has lost nearly 40 members to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, more than 1,000 others been infected or exposed.
“We’re not across the finish line,” President Louis Mark Carotenuto said. “We need [Governor Cuomo] to [sign it] now. Our members must have enforceable safety measures. We owe it to them. There should not be a question, or an option not to sign this into law. This pandemic isn’t over. We’re seeing variants pop up all over. We need to make sure we finish this fight by signing this bill into law.”
To date, roughly 21,000 workers exposed to COVID-19 have filed Workers’ Compensation claims, although tens of thousands more are believed to be at risk.
Beyond passage of the NY HERO Act, worker advocates say the entire Workman’s Compensation system needs to be reformed to reflect the realities of COVID-19 and its long-range impact on exposed workers.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is expected to send the bill to the governor’s desk ASAP. LaborPress reached out to the chief executive’s office for the governor’s thoughts on the NY HERO Act, but has not yet gotten a reply.
The Essential Workers Coalition, spearheaded by ALIGN, has started a petition urging Governor Cuomo to immediately sign the New York HERO Act.