For Immediate Release – November 1, 2021
Contact: Patrick Nevada, firstname.lastname@example.org, 646-866-9065
Groundbreaking Law Brings Worker Safety Committees to Companies Across New York
NEW YORK, NY – Today, a provision of the recently enacted NY HERO Act takes effect, empowering New York workers to form committees in their workplaces to have a voice on the job and protect their health and safety. The new state policy is the first of its kind in the nation.
Throughout the COVID pandemic, workers raised alarms about unmasked and cramped workplaces to no avail. New York leaders passed the NY HERO Act to protect workers from exposure to COVID on the job and establish the framework to address future pandemics or other workplace safety concerns. The committees are now a permanent part of New York labor law and will continue after the pandemic.
Beginning November 1, workers at any private sector workplace with at least 10 employees can form a worker committee that employers are required to meet with and respond to on any health and safety issue. Committees must be majority non-supervisory employees and workers will choose their own representatives. Committees can review health and safety policies or reports and participate in government inspections. You can learn more about the committees here.
New York labor unions and worker advocates are celebrating the new law. The committees will give workers new opportunities to organize and build power at work, including at companies that have fought union organizing by workers in the past. Workers are protected from employer retaliation when exercising these new rights.
The campaign for the NY HERO Act has been led by the NY Essential Workers Coalition, a statewide group made up of over 75 unions, worker centers, immigrant rights organizations, legal service providers, health and safety organizations, and community-based organizations.
“The historic wave of worker strikes across the country signals a collective call for a stronger worker voice. The implementation of NY HERO and worker committees in New York presents a monumental opportunity for workers to build democratic structures in the workplace. We look forward to working with Governor Hochul to meet the vision of NY HERO, as the workers’ call for dignity and health in the workplace will only continue to get louder,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, Executive Director of ALIGN, a key leader of the NY Essential Workers Coalition that successfully fought for the NY HERO Act.
“This groundbreaking law will give many workers a voice on the job for the first time and it can be the basis for workers to start organizing to improve their workplace. Too many companies called their employees essential last year not to celebrate their work, but as an excuse to ignore their safety. The Teamsters and our allies in the New York Essential Workers Coalition fought to pass the NY HERO Act so workers would be protected from COVID on the job and have safe and healthy workplaces in the future. Worker health and safety committees are a big step toward that goal,” said Thomas Gesualdi, President of Teamsters Joint Council 16.
“The devastating infection rate and death toll that ravaged working New Yorkers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic showed that the status quo is broken— workers must have a meaningful voice when it comes to workplace health and safety. The joint employee-employer worker committees going into effect today will give us the voice we need to raise serious health and safety concerns with management. NY Hero is a model for other states to follow, and I’m very proud of our members who helped lead the way, successfully advocating for the State to act on the lessons we learned during the pandemic about how to keep people safe on the job,” said Dennis Trainor, Vice President, Communications Workers of America District 1.
“No worker should fear retaliation for raising a health or safety issue. The new worker-led health and safety committees created by the NY Hero Act will fundamentally change the way health and safety issues are handled at work across the state. Workers now have an opportunity to address concerns early and advocate for protections that will ensure they can safely return to their families each night,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
“Frontline workers are indispensable. No worker should be asked to sacrifice their life or health for a paycheck. The worker committees established in the NY Hero Act give workers a powerful voice to raise health and safety concerns on the job—without the fear of retaliation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we witnessed how important it was for healthcare workers to speak out for health and safety measures, and today’s implementation of worker committees will begin to ensure that workers in all industries can win the respect and protection they deserve,” said NYSNA President Nancy Hagans, RN.
“No one understands the needs of their workplace better than workers,” said Beverley Brakeman, Regional Director, United Auto Workers Region 9A. “The NY HERO Act was a game changer in NY, because workers can finally create health and safety committees to address any and all health and safety issues. Workers should never have to put their health and safety in jeopardy while performing their job. These workplace committees will give workers the voice they need at the table with their employer to ensure a safe working environment.”
“The NY HERO Law gives a voice to the workers in the workplace. It is essential that we, the workers, stick together and use these tools to form our health and safety committees. Currently, the law doesn’t apply to me as an independent food vendor, but this will set the path for workers like myself. Those who can form these health and safety committees should know that this tool would help resolve any hazard, help elevate the standards and have better conditions at their job. Unity is Power!” said Juana Cruz, worker member of the Laundry Workers Center.
“At the packing plant where I was working, workers were exposed and got sick with COVID because the supervisors and bosses didn’t do anything to protect us, even though there were guidelines and protocols from the state. I hope with this new law that workers will be able to protect themselves so this won’t keep happening,” said Erica, a packing plant worker in Fulton, NY
“For agricultural workers of Alianza Agricola, the worker committees are very important and a great victory under the NY HERO law. These committees will guarantee our safety not just from COVID, but from other health and safety hazards, we would be able to carry out our work without fear and without running major risks,” said Luis Jimenez, worker leader of Alianza Agrícola.
“For nearly two years, our frontline workers, a large majority of whom are immigrant and BIPOC New Yorkers, have had to choose between their health and their jobs,” said Murad Awawdeh, Executive Director, New York Immigration Coalition. “On November 1, the implementation of the NY Hero Act will finally ensure these and all working New Yorkers do not have to choose between their personal safety and their livelihoods. All workers deserve safe conditions without fear of reprisal or losing their jobs—whether they are in the offices of Manhattan or hospitals in Buffalo or the fields of the Hudson Valley. The New York Immigration Coalition thanks Governor Kathy Hochul, Speaker Heastie, Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, Senator Gianris, and Assembly Member Reyes for their leadership in making the NY Hero Act a reality. We look forward to continuing the fight for labor justice so every New Yorker can thrive.”
“Thanks to the NY HERO Act, no New Yorker must face the impossible choice between their health and their paycheck. Today, the worker safety committees created through this life-saving legislation officially take effect, giving workers the power to organize and monitor workplace health and safety issues without fear of retaliation. The pandemic has made clear that workers are the first to know about dangerous conditions in the workplace, and thanks to the NY HERO Act worker committees, New Yorkers can now bring their employers to the table to ensure that their health and lives are prioritized over profit,” said Lisa Zucker, senior attorney for legislative affairs at the New York Civil Liberties Union.
“To me the NY HERO Act is important because some companies just take advantage of the rules. They change rules a lot, especially right now. I supervise runners and they’re supposed to get eight hours but only get six. What’s to stop companies from doing the same thing with our health. The safety committees mandated by the NY HERO Act ensure we have a say and won’t be retaliated against,” said Juan Alvarez, an employee with FreshDirect.
“As the NY HERO Act goes into effect, we can see the power workers have when they come together to make the changes so desperately needed to ensure healthy and safe workplaces,” said Erica Smiley, Executive Director of Jobs With Justice. “Before the NY HERO Act, when workers tried to address unsafe workplaces, they were met with retaliation, termination, or forced to continue working in conditions that too often put their lives at risk. Many companies were more interested in protecting their profits than the people who make those profits possible. The pandemic only further exposed the gaping holes in a system that kept workers at risk and in fear. Now that’s changed. Through the NY HERO Act, New York State will lead the way to help solve what the pandemic exposed. Workers now have the protection and empowerment they need to address and improve health and safety conditions at work. The NY HERO Act is a landmark law and provides a roadmap for what’s possible across the country and we could not be more excited for what comes next. To all those who fought so hard for this: we thank you.”
“NY HERO worker committees ensure that our essential workers have a voice on the job to keep their workplaces safe and healthy. New York’s new law sets the bar for workers’ rights policies across the country,” said Charlene Obernauer, Executive Director of NYCOSH
“Now concerning the safety committees, I think this will give a stronger voice in the workplace and greater confidence,” said Al Brown, UFCW 2013 Shop Steward at Port Chester Restaurant Depot
“With the implementation of the NY HERO law, workers have a new mechanism to directly address workplace hazards and hold employers accountable. Worker committees are critical to ensuring workers have a seat at the table and a role in protecting themselves and their coworkers on the job. What’s more, NY HERO’s strong anti-retaliation protections will help reassure the most vulnerable workers that New York State has their back and will not tolerate abusive employers who would put profit over worker safety,” said Emma Kreyche, Director of Advocacy, Outreach & Education at the Worker Justice Center of New York
“The implementation of the worker councils it’s a key piece of the New York HERO Act. It gives workers a tool to advocate for themselves around issues of health and safety without fear of retaliation. This is incredibly important for workers in so many industries, especially those that have not been able to unionize. This is a very critical step towards ensuring that workers are protected from health and safety hazards, but also from employers’ retaliation,” said Fabiola Ortiz Valdez, lead organizer of the Food Chain Workers Alliance.
“The right to form a worker committee under the NY HERO Act is a crucial new tool fought for and won by workers in NYS. Farmworkers, cleaning workers, retail workers, and other essential workers continued showing up throughout the pandemic, risking their health and safety to keep our communities running. Worker committees will make workers and our communities safer by empowering workers across all sectors, regardless of immigration status or unionization, to organize to protect themselves by addressing any health and safety issues in the workplace,” said Jessica Maxwell, Executive director, Workers Center of CNY