New York Daily News: Queens Sen. Gianaris, union leaders renew push for COVID worker protections under NY Hero Act

Originally published in New York Daily News on January 07, 2021.

ALBANY — Prominent Democrats and union leaders are making a renewed push for legislation that would mandate COVID-19 workplace safety standards and better protect essential workers from future outbreaks.

The New York Health and Essential Rights Act, or NY HERO Act, sponsored by state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) and Assemblywoman Karines Reyes (D-Bronx), would levy fines against businesses that fail to adopt and enact health and safety standards to protect workers and stem the spread of the coronavirus.


“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 to protect themselves while on the job.”

Gianaris first floated the union-backed bill last year.


The measure will direct the Department of Labor to issue airborne infectious disease standards for businesses that’ll include protocols on testing, face masks, personal protective equipment, social distancing and other issues.


The standards will be crafted by industry-specific worker committees; the bill also includes strong anti-retaliation provisions that allow workers to call out employers without fear of reprisal.


“The worker heroes who are getting our state through this pandemic need protections so they can do their jobs safely,” said George Miranda, the president of Teamsters Joint Council 16. “Nearly a year into the COVID pandemic, workers are still on the job without protective equipment or sanitary practices.


“The New York State Legislature can step in and ensure workers have enforceable COVID safety standards immediately,” he added.


Under the measure, fines would rise for repeat offenders. The bill directs the Labor Department to fine employers who don’t adopt a prevention plan up to $50 per day — and to fine those who violate their plan once adopted between $1,000 and $10,000.


Proponents say the measure goes further than the piecemeal protections currently provided to workers in the state, and will also cover gig workers including drivers for app-based companies and others.


“Right now, unlike public sector workers who have protections, there are no statutory protocols for private sector workers in terms of how to respond to infectious diseases,” said Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO. “If this pandemic has taught us anything, with tens of thousands of workers succumbing to this virus, it’s that we need to make the health and safety of workers a priority.


“The NY HERO Act will serve as a necessary template to ensure the safety, health and well-being of everyday working heroes now and into the future,” he added.

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