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Democrats, Unions Seek Workplace Protections Against Infectious Diseases through NY HERO Act
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Deputy Senate Majority Leader Mike Gianaris (FILE)
Credit: New York State Senate

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Democrats and labor unions in New York are pushing a bill that would require businesses to implement specific public health standards intended to protect their employees from contracting infections, airborne diseases, like COVID-19, and penalize companies if they don’t.

Businesses would face fines ranging from $50 to $20,000 for failing to adopt or abide by a plan that would protect workers from airborne, infectious diseases under the proposal.

The legislation, called the NY HERO Act, is sponsored by Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris, D-Queens and Assemblymember Karines Reyes, D-Bronx. It was first introduced last August, when lawmakers were away from Albany.

Gianaris said the legislation was inspired by stories from frontline, essential workers, who’ve worked throughout the COVID-19 pandemic without uniform workplace protections.

“We saw in the first big wave here in New York that the people who bore the brunt, the sacrifice and health problems, were the people who had to go to work,” Gianaris said.

New York has certain regulations designed to protect essential workers from the virus, like a mandate on masks in certain workplace situations and requirements to social distance. But those regulations aren’t permanent and don’t protect all employees.

The bill from Gianaris and Reyes would require companies to adopt a model that would protect their employees from airborne, infectious diseases, and allow workers to monitor those plans and report violations without fear of repercussions.

It would also provide strict regulations for companies to follow for the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a plan for them to pick up in future situations when an airborne, infectious disease emerges.

‘We want to make sure workers are protected moving forward and that they have a voice in the process of promulgating those rules and making sure they’re able to monitor their workplace and have a seat at the table,” Reyes said.

The legislation is supported by a coalition of labor unions, who’ve been advocating for stronger protections for workers since the start of the pandemic. That includes the powerful AFL-CIO in New York, which is led by Mario Cilento.

“What we’re saying today is this: If something like this happens again, we need a template to ensure the safety, the health, of all working people,” Cilento said.

If the Legislature approves the bill, it would take effect 30 days after it’s signed into law.

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