UFCW2013 President Carotenuto and members have been working with the ALIGN Coalition for enforceable PPE standards and protections for workers. We testified at city council hearings about the need for HEroeS legislation, scores of members wrote letters to legislators and three members, Rob Williams from Madison York, Gerardo Roche from Milmar, and Kara Daniels from Blvd Alps. Thanks to all of our efforts the bill was introduced in the State on Jan 7th . Take action NOW to let legislators know we need this bill passed.
By David Brand
As the coronavirus surged through Queens, sanitation driver Douglas Washington kept punching in. He was an essential worker, driving through New York City to collect dumpsters and compactors for the private carting firm Royal Waste Services.
But in March, Washington got sick, forcing him to isolate from his fiancee and 14-year-old son. Even after he recovered, some symptoms persisted.
So too did the fear and uncertainty he felt at work. His employer failed to take necessary steps to protect the workers who help keep New York running during the pandemic, he said. Royal Waste Services did not respond to requests for comment.
“We’ve been called essential for so long through this pandemic but we haven’t seen any benefits other than having to be at work and come out to work every day,” Washington said. “And that uncertainty is not enough.”
On Thursday, Washington joined fellow frontline workers, union leaders and state lawmakers to advocate for a bill that would help protect people like him when they’re on the job.
The New York Health and Essential Rights Act, or NY HERO Act, would compel the state Health and Labor Departments to create minimum safety standards to protect workers from airborne illnesses like COVID-19.
The measure would impose fines up to $10,000 for employers who fail to implement basic testing, PPE, ventilation and social distancing protocols. And the bill would empower workers to monitor implementation and report violations without fear of retaliation.
“The people that bore the brunt of the sacrifice, the health problems, were workers that we needed to go to work,” said State Sen. Michael Gianaris, the bill’s sponsor, during a press conference Thursday. “Frontline workers, the people who brought us our food, people who did the necessary things to move our community forward even while we were in lockdown.”
Nationwide, 74 million essential workers and their families are at a high risk of COVID-19, according to a November study published by the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found.
A March report by the New York City Comptroller’s Office found that the city’s frontline workers are predominantly Black and Latino, and more than half are immigrants — the same groups disproportionately sickened and killed throughout the pandemic. Food service employees, healthcare staff and transit workers have all experienced high rates of COVID-19 while continuing to go into work.
The bill introduced Wednesday has eight senate co-sponsors, including Queens Sens. Jessica Ramos and James Sanders Jr., as well as support from various powerful labor unions.
“A hero is someone who is aware of the risk in taking action and goes forward anyway,” said New York AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento. “Everyday New Yorkers went to work, they continued to go to work despite their own concerns and their own worries … They are heroes in the purest sense of the word.”
The measure will have a far-reaching impact, its supporters say.
The protections will keep New Yorkers safe after the current pandemic subsides, said Assembly sponsor Karines Reyes.
“We know this won’t be the first or last pandemic that we will have to contend with and we want to make sure workers are protected and have a voice,” Reyes said.