New York lawmakers last week put the final touches on a bill meant to set minimum COVID-19 safety standards for workplaces throughout the state. Backed by labor unions, the measure if granted final approval by Gov. Andrew Cuomo would set requirements for access to protective equipment, social distancing and time for handwashing.
A range of the state's politically influential labor unions is also now urging Cuomo to sign the measure known as the NY Hero Act, calling it essential for worker safety.
But business groups are mounting a push to make changes to the measure through amendments in order to make some of the new requirements less burdensome, including altering provisions that make it easier to file lawsuits against employers over working conditions.
In all, the bill is now the subject of a post-passage advocacy effort playing out as the COVID-19 positive rate in New York continues to decline, more people are vaccinated and the economy could be primed for growth in the coming months. That, in turn, has led the bill's supporters in labor to mount a defense of the bill, arguing its protections for workers are necessary as more people return to the workplace.
Cuomo on Monday announced another easing of COVID-19 capacity limits for offices, casinos and outdoor stadiums as well as gyms and fitness centers outside of New York City.
Labor unions on Tuesday are set to release a letter urging Cuomo's approval for the bill. The letter, signed by labor groups like CWA, 1199SEIU, the New York Nurses Association and RWDSU, pointed to the sacrifices workers in the service and health care sectors made during the pandemic.
"Workers in New York have worked without masks, gloves, or access to sanitary facilities, without being informed of positive tests in their workplace, crowded into spaces where they could not socially distance from coworkers, and without protections from retaliation if they demanded safe working conditions," the letter states. "It is a tragedy that so many have died in this service and that so many continue to work without protections from COVID-19."
Enshrining protections in the workplace in law will help New York be a leader in pandemic safety, the unions wrote.
"New York’s workers need the NY HERO Act to protect themselves, their families, and their communities from COVID-19 and whatever comes next. We urge you to quickly sign this legislation without amendments so no more workers die preventable deaths," the letter states. "The best way to celebrate our heroes is to keep them safe on the job."
But business organizations argue changes are needed for the measure as many employers work to dig out from under the financial stress created by the pandemic.
This week, 48 business entities from around the state, many of them local chambers of commerce, urged amendments to the bill: They want the measure to only be applicable during a declared state of emergency, the elimination of workplace safety committees and the removal of a "private right of action" provision in the bill for a worker to bring judgment for damages.
Businesses are also calling for a 90-day "cure" period to fix issues before a lawsuit goes forward if the right of action stipulation is not removed.
“While the NY Hero Act is well-intentioned, we are calling on our leaders in Albany to work together to modify certain aspects of the bill that could irreparably harm struggling businesses across the state," the business groups said in a statement. "By engaging with all stakeholders to advance sensible amendments, including applying this measure only during a declared state of emergency, we can achieve a balance between workplace safety and economic recovery. Helping employers recover and rehire unemployed New Yorkers is more essential than ever. We look forward to working with legislators and leadership to address the flaws in this bill.”
The bill is now sitting on Cuomo's desk.