Legislative Alert: May 3rd, 2021

President's Message

What We Owe Workers Who Risked Everything

Each year on April 28, the labor movement observes Workers Memorial Day to remember all those killed or injured on the job and to renew our fight for strong health and safety protections for all workers. But this is no ordinary year.

Not in recent memory has safety on the job been so critically important. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how vital it is to have safe workplaces.

This pandemic pulled back the curtain to reveal how essential workers are, but it also exposed the weaknesses that exist in safeguarding the physical and mental wellbeing of these everyday heroes on the job.

It should not be up to workers to provide their own personal protective equipment, but they did. It should not be up to unions to secure hotel rooms to give health-care workers a safe place to rest before returning to work, but they did.

Many of our union affiliates have created memorial pages on their websites to honor the memory of their members who died from COVID-19. Scrolling through the hundreds of names is heart wrenching as the reality sets in that many of these men and women died simply because they went to work every day as an essential worker and paid with their lives due to COVID-19 exposure and a lack of workplace safety.

Far more were sickened simply because they went to work. They came from the public sector, private sector and from the building trades. And they all worked in industries that require workers to interact with the public. They were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and best friends. They were human beings who faced the possibility of becoming ill or even dying, who went to work anyway providing the essential services we all depend on.

We have a duty, responsibility, and moral obligation to ensure all working people return home safely at the end of their workday.

In that spirit, it was 50 years ago that the Occupational Safety and Health Act went into effect after the labor movement drew attention to work-related deaths and injuries. The law promised workers the right to a safe job. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved as a result. But we can do better.

One way to make our workplaces safer is by giving workers a voice on the job because workplace safety and worker voice go hand in hand. That is the reason why the entire labor movement supports passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act — the PRO Act.

A Gallup poll found that union approval stands at 65%, one of the highest marks since OSHA was implemented in 1971. Research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows that nearly 60 million people would vote to join a union today if given the opportunity.

The PRO Act would give them that chance. It would streamline the process for reaching a collective bargaining agreement once a union is formed; increase penalties for employers that violate workers’ rights; make workplaces safer, and so much more.

So, as we pay tribute in union halls and on zoom to those we lost, reading aloud the names of those killed or injured on the job, we also stand firm in our fight to strengthen workplace protections, make jobs safer and save lives. The labor movement fought a half-century ago for workplace safety and we continue that fight today.

We must never forget that it is working people who are responsible for the success and well-being of this state. It is working people who have gone above and beyond to carry us through the pandemic. It is working people who demand to be heard, be protected on the job, and be given a fair pathway to form unions, without fear, intimidation, or retribution.

President Biden has urged its passage and the House has answered that call. New York’s Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand co-sponsor the bill, and now we need their colleagues to follow their lead to rebuild our economy fairly and make workplaces safer.

Mario Cilento, President

Monday, May 3, 2021, 1:00 p.m.
Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon will be the guest speaker.
This will be a zoom meeting.

Issue of the Week

          PROTECT NEW YORK'S HEROES (S. 1034B Gianaris/ A. 2681B Reyes)

New York State was left to its own at the onset of this pandemic with little- to-no help from the federal government. Information on proper safety protocols was either not available or was late and in confusing and conflicting constructs. The national response was slow and disjointed and as a result too many of our essential workers and their families were needlessly exposed to COVID-19. The subsequent devastation of so many lives and families is something we must ensure never happens again.

Currently, there are no state level compulsory workplace safety standards in place to protect workers from exposure to airborne infectious disease. This deficiency has put countless New York workers at enhanced risk of exposure to COVID-19. This legislation would alleviate some of that enhanced risk.

This bill would require the Commissioner of Labor to promulgate an airborne infectious disease prevention standard for all worksites to establish minimum requirements for preventing exposure. Employers would be required to adopt exposure prevention plans at least as protective as the Commissioner’s standard. The standard and plans must include, among other things, requirements for health screenings; PPE; social distancing; and compliance with law, engineering controls, and quarantine orders. All private sector workplaces would be covered, including worksites of independent contractors. The bill includes training for workers, oversight, and enforcement provisions.

This legislation will help business and other private sector venues to prepare for future infectious disease outbreaks and establish proper protocols and safety measures. Proper planning will not only protect essential workers but help to contain the spread and allow businesses to operate safely rather than completely shut down. In the event the federal government adopts a national workplace safety standard then that will take precedent. However, in any instances where the federal government fails to act, this bill will ensure New York is prepared, and workers are protected.