For immediate release – June 8, 2020
Alex Moore (Teamsters), firstname.lastname@example.org, 347-762-0778
Daisy Chung (ALIGN), email@example.com, 646-899-0147
As New York Reopens the Economy, Labor and Community Leaders are Calling for the Protection of Black Lives in the Workplace
Call for Governor Cuomo to issue a Health and Essential Rights Order (NY H.E.R.O.) to increase protections for workers
NEW YORK, NY, June 8, 2020 – This past week, thousands of New Yorkers protested on the streets against anti-black violence and the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police. This eruption against anti-black violence is coinciding with the re-opening of New York’s economy, with hundreds of thousands expected to return to work in what was the epicenter of the pandemic. As concerns are raised about the black lives lost to the police, essential workers and community advocates are also raising concerns about the continued inadequate protection of frontline workers, especially the impact on black workers who make up the largest percentage of the NYC essential workforce.
To ensure the protection of black lives during this re-opening, a coalition of labor and community leaders is urging Governor Cuomo to issue NY H.E.R.O., which will require employers to provide enforceable health and safety standards in the workplace for all workers, empower workers to raise concerns about health and safety, and protect workers from retaliation when they speak out. This order will quickly improve the health and safety of black workers for those who have been working on the frontlines since the pandemic began as well as those who will be returning to work in the coming weeks.
The coalition warns that the re-opening should not be a return to “normalcy”. Without more protections, there will be continued endangerment of black workers who have already suffered disproportionate cases and deaths due to COVID-19. Black and Latinx people comprise the majority of essential workers who are currently being underpaid, not adequately protected, and fired for raising concerns about health and safety. These workplace issues reinforce and compound the effects of poverty, homelessness, environmental devastation, and police violence that black people have faced before the crisis. The inadequate protection of black lives in the workplace is another form of violence that black communities face in their daily lives. Normal was killing black lives. We cannot return to normal.
While nurses are wearing trash bags weeks after the first COVID-19 cases appeared, the state’s police forces were ready at a moment’s notice fully armored and equipped. This stark difference reflects how New York chooses to protect our communities: rubber bullets over gowns, batons over gloves, pepper spray over face shields.
During this historic curfew, the very same equipment that militarized our police had been used to criminalize the black and brown essential workers who were returning home after their shift. Working while black should not cost you your life, whether it be at the hands of the police, or your employer.
“As protests continue to erupt against white supremacy and police violence, NYC reopened today in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, which has laid bare other forms of racial violence that are devastating Black communities. Black workers make up the largest percentage of essential workers in our city, and for the last 3 months of this pandemic, countless workers have been expected to do their jobs with few protections in place,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of ALIGN. Governor Cuomo can do something about it now and ensure that essential workers aren’t put in jeopardy by their employers by immediately issuing NY HERO. They need and deserve the best possible protections, improving health and safety protocols to guarantee that no worker is vulnerable to harm, injury, or loss of life.”
“As the economy reopens amidst a historic movement against police brutality, New York must ensure that essential workers, mostly workers of color, are safe on the job,” said George Miranda, President of Teamsters Joint Council 16. “They never shut down, and they kept our city and state running as their communities faced the highest rates of the virus. They are heroes, but heroes need masks.”
“We must not forget that as New York City begins re-opening we are Still in the midst of extraordinary challenges. The safety of workers, customers and all New Yorkers must be our primary concern. This includes making sure workers have all the health and safety protections and preventative measures in place in their workplaces to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But it also means that all New Yorkers must continue to do their part including wearing masks in public, and especially when they are in retail stores. Many of our members are eager to begin the re-opening of the city and going back to work, but they want to do so safely,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). “But workplace protections alone are not enough to ensure safety. We are deeply troubled by the behavior of the police towards protestors since the tragic death of George Floyd. New York City’s retail workforce is incredibly diverse and as we return to work we need to know that all workers will be safe as they come to and from work. That means security in knowing that you will not be targeted by the police for the color of your skin. At this moment that is far from being reality. We cannot and will not rest until each and every New Yorker can live and work in safety. We must make this a city where black lives matter. We must make this a city where workers and all people are respected and protected.”
“We’re living within two public health crises, COVID-19 and police violence against Black Americans. Black essential workers are more likely to be targeted by the police during the NYC curfew and to be impacted by COVID-19. We cannot simply go back to “normal.” We need more protections so that we don’t continue to place Black workers at risk of disproportionate targeting by the police and disproportionate deaths due to COVID-19,” said Charlene Obernauer, Executive Director of New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health.
“We’re at a point in history where we have experienced two tragic pandemics at once; one is a health crisis disproportionately impacting people of color and the other is one of a long standing history of society turning a blind-eye to the systemic abuses of how people of color are treated,” said Mark Carotenuto, President of UFCW Local 2013. “People of color are, by large number, employed in what are now considered ESSENTIAL jobs. Jobs in the Healthcare Industry; Food workers at grocery stores and the Food Preparation Industry; etc. Workers should not have to beg to be paid or treated properly; and people of color – human beings – should not have to beg to be treated equally. Now is the time to confront both of these crises; now is the time for people to come together and demand fair and equal treatment in ALL aspects of life. NOW IS THE TIME FOR CHANGE; RESPECT; UNITY!”
“One blatant truth of the past three months is that those of us who had the privilege to work and live in our homes safely could do so because our frontline essential workers, the vast majority of whom are Black, Latinx, and Asian, put their lives on the line every day that they went to work,” said Beverley Brakeman, Regional Director of United Auto Workers, Region 9A. “These workers did so despite the state failing to mandate comprehensive health and safety standards to ensure their safety. As New Yorkers took to the street united against the police’s systemic violence against Blacks, a second blatant truth emerged – essential workers of color were targeted by the police for being out past the curfew imposed by Mayor de Blasio as they commuted to and from work. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to what we are seeing. We cannot continue to ignore the fact that workers will not be protected on the job unless their employers are forced to do so. We cannot continue to ignore the reports of workers being retaliated against for speaking up about the dangerous working conditions they have been forced to work in, and will continue to face as we all begin to navigate the re-opening of our economy amidst the COVID pandemic. Governor Cuomo must act now to protect all workers by issuing NY HERO.”
“As New York’s economy reopens, frontline workers – 75% of whom are Black, Latinx or Asian in New York City – still do not have the protections they need,” said Paul Sonn, state policy program director of National Employment Law Project. “New York State still has not mandated comprehensive health and safety standards to ensure safe workplaces. Many essential workers report being punished when they speak up about dangerous work conditions – and Black workers face retaliation at twice the rate of white workers. We call on Governor Cuomo to protect workers with a comprehensive COVID workplace health and safety standard. And we call on City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Mayor de Blasio to pass the Essential Workers’ Bill of Rights, which would guarantee just cause whistleblower protections for essential workers like those in fast food, and provide paid sick days for gig workers left out of current protections.”
“The last few months have shown that Black lives are vulnerable, whether at work or in the community, from coronavirus and police violence. Our state must protect Black people and Black workers. The New York Health and Essential Rights Order (NY HERO) will ensure that the workers whose communities have died from the virus at the highest rates have the protections they need to stay safe at work,” said Sean T. Campbell, President of Teamsters Local 813.
NY H.E.R.O. will ensure employers provide comprehensive health and safety standards for workers. It is endorsed by 87 labor unions and community organizations.