Queens, NY – This week, a cross-section of essential workers throughout the city gathered in Jackson Heights, Queens, one of the hardest hit communities during the coronavirus pandemic, to demand New York State pass new legislation compelling employers to provide them with necessary protective gear as New York City enters Phase 3 of its reopening plan.
Labor and community group ALIGN [Alliance for Greater New York] jointly held a press conference with Teamsters Joint Council 16 at Diversity Plazaon Tuesday, giving workers in transportation, healthcare, construction, retail and many other industries an opportunity to tell their stories of what it’s been like working through the coronavirus crisis.
ALIGN Community Coordinator Jake Streich-Kest kicked off the press event noting the toll COVID-19 has had on the people of Jackson Heights.
“In this zip code, hundreds of people have died, and these neighborhoods are made up of essential workers who have kept their city running all throughout this pandemic, all types of folks that kept food on our tables and allowed people to stay alive during this horrific time,” Streich-Kest said.
He also noted that because of inadequate protections on the job, neighborhoods like Jackson Heights have had some of the highest infections and deaths.
“You’ve heard all the stories of workers going into work without masks, nurses going to work wearing trash bags, folks being retaliated against if they complained or asked for more protections at work.
“As we enter the Phase 3 reopening, workers will be going back to work and they’re still not knowing what protections they have,” Streich-Kest added.
Streich-Kest emphasized the need for state legislation mandating employers to provide workers with personal protection equipment [PPE] and establish policies to ensure adequate social distancing and adequate sanitation policies.
“It’s one thing to just say that an employer has to do something, it’s another thing to actually force them to do it,” he said.
Judith Crutchin is on the executive board of the New York State Nurses Association [NYSNA], which represents 42,000 frontline nurses around the state. She echoed Streich-Kest’s sentiment that there must be state legislation.
“The pandemic is far from over and continues to pose an existential threat to nurses, essential workers like you and the public at large,” she said. “New York needs to enter Phase 3 with our eyes wide open and with a strong, strong sense of responsibility.”
Robert Pena drives a sanitation truck, but has not seen his employer sanitize any of the vehicles in the company’s fleet. One colleague actually died from COVID-19 even though he had told his boss he was feeling ill and did not want to report to work.
Pena said he’s concerned about his own health and is taking special precautions before visiting family members.
“It’s not fair to us,” he said. “We all have families. My own father is a kidney recipient, so I have to talk to him through a window because I don’t know what I have. I truly believe that we should have a bill passed so that we will all be protected.”
Hope Gilmore, a member of CWA 1102, works as a customer service representative with E-ZPASS New York. In March, there was an unconfirmed case of COVID-19 at her facility. The mother of a one-year old son, was terrified to work because she didn’t want to catch the virus and potentially infect her child. However, thanks to the union, her employer finally agreed to thoroughly sanitize the facility after repeated requests.
“All workers deserve to be in a safe workplace, parents shouldn’t have to choose between going to work and protecting their children,” said Gilmore.
Other organizations that joined the Jackson Heights rally included the Legal Aid Society, National Day Laborer Organizing Network, National Employment Law Project and the Food Chain Worker Alliance.
We live streamed the entire press conference to our Facebook Page, which can be viewed here.