Queens lawmaker calls for state Legislature to pass COVID-19 workplace safety bill

Courtesy of Gianaris’ office

Declaring that too many frontline essential workers have already sacrificed their health during the COVID-19 pandemic, which remains an “extreme threat,” state Senator Michael Gianaris pushed for the passage of his legislation that would implement better workplace health standards and penalize companies if they don’t protect their workers.

Elected officials and union leaders joined Gianaris in a virtual press conference Thursday calling for the state Legislature to pass his New York Health and Essential Rights Act, known as the NY HERO Act that he first introduced in August.

“We saw in the first big wave here in New York that the people who bore the brunt, the sacrifice and health problems, were the people that had to go to work,” Gianaris said.

The legislation would mandate the state’s Department of Labor and Health to implement minimum standards for workplace safety, enforceable through significant fines. The regulations must include protocols on testing, personal protection equipment, social distancing, hand hygiene, disinfection, and engineering controls. Employers would be permitted to establish individual regulations for their businesses that exceed state requirements.

Workers would also be given a direct role in monitoring and reporting violations through workplace health and safety committees that would be empowered to raise complaints and report violations. The measure would also protect workers from retaliation from employees for utilizing their rights under the law.

The NY HERO Act is supported by more than 100 labor, community, and safety organizations.

“What we’re saying today is this,” New York AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said. “If something like this happens again, we need a template to ensure the safety, the health, of all working people.”

State Senator Jessica Ramos, the chair of the Committee on Labor, joined the call to pass the NY HERO Act.

“Workers right now are hurting in a myriad of ways and under the HERO Act we can help keep them safe, can help protect them and ensure that they are taken care of during this adverse time,” Ramos said. “I like the bill and I’m looking forward to passing the bill in this session.”

If the NY HERO Act is approved in the legislature, it would take effect 30 days after it is signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

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