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Worker Safety Committees Become Law in NYS

New York, NY – Workers now have the ability to form their own safety committees in the workplace thanks to a provision in the recently enacted NY HERO Act, taking effect Nov. 1.

Healthcare workers in Brooklyn stage a mid-day rally during the height of the pandemic calling for greater workplace protections.

“This groundbreaking law will give many workers a voice on the job for the first time and it can be the basis for workers to start organizing to improve their workplace,” Teamsters Joint Council 16 President Thomas Gesualdi said in a statement. “Too many companies called their employees essential last year not to celebrate their work, but as an excuse to ignore their safety. The Teamsters and our allies in the New York Essential Workers Coalition fought to pass the NY HERO Act so workers would be protected from Covid on the job and have safe and healthy workplaces in the future. Worker health and safety committees are a big step toward that goal.”

Although a result of the pandemic, the committees are now a permanent part of New York labor law.

“Frontline workers are indispensable. No worker should be asked to sacrifice their life or health for a paycheck,” NYSNA President Nancy Hagans said in response to the new law going into effect today. “The worker committees established in the NY Hero Act give workers a powerful voice to raise health and safety concerns on the job—without the fear of retaliation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we witnessed how important it was for healthcare workers to speak out for health and safety measures, and today’s implementation of worker committees will begin to ensure that workers in all industries can win the respect and protection they deserve.”

Many companies throughout the state and rest of the country did not address worker concerns about workplace dangers during the Covid-19 pandemic. New York legislators passed the NY HERO Act in an effort to better protect workers from exposure to COVID on the job and establish the framework to address future safety concerns.

Beginning November 1, workers at any private sector workplace with at least 10 employees can form a worker committee that employers are required to meet with and respond to on health and safety issues. Committees must be majority non-supervisory employees and workers will choose their own representatives. Committees can review health and safety policies and discuss issues with management. Workers are protected from employer retaliation when exercising these new rights and responsibilities.

“The devastating infection rate and death toll that ravaged working New Yorkers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic showed that the status quo is broken— workers must have a meaningful voice when it comes to workplace health and safety,” Communications Workers of America District 1 VP Dennis Trainor said in a statement. “The joint employee-employer worker committees going into effect today will give us the voice we need to raise serious health and safety concerns with management. NY Hero is a model for other states to follow, and I’m very proud of our members who helped lead the way, successfully advocating for the State to act on the lessons we learned during the pandemic about how to keep people safe on the job.”

The campaign for the NY HERO Act has been led by the NY Essential Workers Coalition, a statewide group made up of over 75 unions, worker centers, immigrant rights organizations, legal service providers, health and safety organizations, and community-based organizations.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union [RWDSU], said “No worker should fear retaliation for raising a health or safety issue” on the job.

“The new worker-led health and safety committees created by the NY Hero Act will fundamentally change the way health and safety issues are handled at work across the state,” he said. “Workers now have an opportunity to address concerns early and advocate for protections that will ensure they can safely return to their families each night.”  

Beverley Brakeman, regional director for United Auto Workers [UAW] Region 9A, hailed the NY HERO Act as a “game changer,” and said no one understands the needs of their workplace better than workers.

“Workers can finally create health and safety committees to address any and all health and safety issues,” she said. “Workers should never have to put their health and safety in jeopardy while performing their job. These workplace committees will give workers the voice they need at the table with their employer to ensure a safe working environment.”

 

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