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Western Queens senator celebrates signing of NY HERO Act into law

Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris announces his NY HERO Act was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo. (Courtesy of Gianaris' office)

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the New York Health and Essential Rights Act (NY HERO Act) into law Wednesday, May 5, creating permanent, enforceable health and safety standards designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other airborne infectious diseases in the workplace.

State Senator Michael Gianaris led a year-long campaign with a coalition of unions, essential workers, advocate organizations and scientists leading to its passage with bipartisan support.

“Too many workers have already sacrificed their health for our community’s benefit,” Gianaris said. “The New York HERO Act will honor their efforts by giving workers the tools they need to protect themselves while on the job. I appreciate the efforts of so many advocates and organizers who made this success possible.”

The NY HERO Act requires the Department of Labor and Health to implement enforceable minimum standards for workplace safety. The regulations must include protocols on testing, PPE, social distancing, hand hygiene, disinfection, and engineering controls. Workers would also be given a direct role in monitoring and reporting violations through workplace safety committees and employees would be protected from retaliation for utilizing their rights under the law.

“As New York moves towards a full reopening in the weeks ahead, the NY HERO Act will play a key role in protecting essential workers and businesses across the state. This law is a major new national precedent for how to create enforceable health and safety protections for workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic and gives workers a voice on the job through health and safety committees,” ALIGN Executive Director Maritza Sliva-Farrell said. “On behalf of the essential workers coalition — a statewide group of over 70 unions, work centers, community organizations, legal service providers, immigrant rights groups, and health and safety advocates — I am thrilled to see the NY HERO Act signed into law.”

Bronx Assemblywoman Karines Reyes carried the bill in the lower chamber.

“I am honored to have sponsored the NY HERO Act that was borne out of my very own experiences serving as a nurse on the front lines during the peak of the pandemic,” Reyes said. “It is crucial that workers are able to operate in a safe environment and have the full support of New York State. New York now has the tools it needs to ensure that it can get on the safest path to recovery.”

Numerous business organizations across the state stood in opposition to the measures citing the high costs of operating in New York.

“The last thing struggling small businesses need to worry about right now is getting swept up in a deluge of lawsuits. While we hoped that Governor Cuomo and the Legislature would amend the NY HERO Act to remove the trial lawyer-friendly private right of action, we are happy to see the bill amended to include a grace period for businesses to comply before being sued,” Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York Executive Director Tom Stebbins said. “We’re encouraged by today’s amendment, which we hope will minimize the damage done and create a layer of protection against predatory and extortionate lawsuits.”

Make the Road New York, the Jackson Heights-based immigrant rights group which represents many of the essential workers living in the neighborhoods impacted the hardest by the pandemic such as Corona and Elmhurst, hailed the signing.

“This is an incredible victory for the health and safety of immigrant, Black and brown essential workers who have put their lives on the line to protect our communities and keep our state going throughout the pandemic,” MRNY Co-Executive Director Theo Oshir said. “As New York State begins to re-open, the NY HERO law will enforce adequate workplace COVID-19 protections and ensure a seat at the table for employees to improve safety conditions at work. We applaud Assembly member Reyes and Senator Gianaris for leading the effort to enact this vital legislation that will help save workers’ lives, help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and create permanent workplace protections.”

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