Essential workers call for workplace protections against COVID-19 at Jackson Heights rally

Screen Shot 2020-07-07 at 3.55.21 PM
Photos by Dean Moses


Essential workers rallied together at Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights to call for state legislation that enforces personal protective equipment and other COVID-19 protection measures during the third phase of New York City’s reopening on Tuesday, July 7.

Workers from a wide variety of industries shared personal accounts of lacking PPE and COVID-19 testing at their workplaces. Many essential workers said they had to maneuver around the dangers of COVID-19, purchasing their own gloves and masks in an attempt to protect themselves when their employers did not offer these items. Workers also expressed a general feeling of being mistreated and under-appreciated by their respective employers.

Robert Pena, a sanitation worker, said he felt unsafe and exposed at work.

“To this day, we are still working under those same conditions,” he said.

There is currently no clear standard that requires employers to offer access to COVID-19 tests or make the work environment safe for their employees.

“It’s not fair to us. 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,” Pena said. “Right now, we are on our own protecting ourselves.”

Pena said the sanitation trucks he rides in and the offices he works in are not regularly sanitized. He also shared that a co-worker, who was at a higher risk of suffering disproportionally from the virus, was forced to go back to work during the pandemic and later passed away after being exposed to COVID-19.

The demonstrators called for elected officials to step in and help all workers, including undocumented workers who pay taxes but did not receive a stimulus check.

Align NY, a labor union in New York City, spearheaded the demonstration, along with the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, New York State Nurses Association, Legal Aid Society, National day Laborer Organizing Network, National Employment Law Project, the Food Chain Workers Alliance and a handful of other organizations.