Public employers would be required to establish protective measures for essential workers whose presence at their normal work locations was required during a public-health emergency, as well as designating which of their employees could telecommute in such situations, under a bill introduced in Albany.
The measure was drafted by State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, Chairman of the Committee on Civil Service and Pensions, and would apply to localities and school districts as well as state agencies and independent authorities.
Have to Be Prepared
"COVID-19 descended swiftly and demonstrated that our City and State government were not prepared for a pandemic. Our public servants were not provided with the proper safety measures, which in some cases cost them their lives," he said in a statement. "Requiring public employers to draft and publish a contingency plan for the next global health crisis will be integral in saving lives and rebuilding the trust between public employees and workers."
New York City has lost roughly 300 of its employees to the coronavirus, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority lost more than 130.
The bill has the support of the New York State Nurses Association which has listed the death of 36 members on its website and reported hundreds more were sidelined.
"As nurses working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw first-hand how lack of preparation and shortages of personal protective equipment harmed nurses—as well as all caregivers and other essential workers—and our patients," NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez said in a statement, added that those employed by NYC Health and Hospitals, Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo and Westchester Medical Center were particularly hard-hit.
Must Discuss With Unions
The legislation would also require public health-care facilities to maintain adequate supplies of personal protective equipment and negotiate pre-pandemic plans with their unions.
Public Employee Federation President Wayne Spence described the bill as "a critical first step" in state emergency planning that would "provide public employees with greater clarity on their roles and responsibilities."
City labor leaders have faulted the de Blasio administration for a patchwork approach to the crisis with wide variance between agencies when it came to determining which job titles could work from home.
Henry Garrido, who as executive director of District Council 37 oversees dozens of locals that lost more than 80 members to the pandemic, asserted, "There are city agencies that took very liberal interpretations with how they defined essential workers," who in many cases could have worked from home.
Takes Shot at CSC
He also criticized the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for altering its guidelines for giving workers protective gear.
"I could not have agreed more with the nurses on this," he said. "It has become increasingly clear the CDC rules changing from Day One was more about accommodating the lack of PPE supply rather than truly saving lives."