With NYC reopening, don’t forget about Black lives
Stephon Johnson | 6/11/2020, midnight
Essential workers are disproportionately people of color. Those people want the governor to keep their safety in mind.
Amid the protests against anti-Black violence by the police and the clashes with police at said protests, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Phase 1 of New York City’s reopening.
To help with the lives of Black and Brown essential workers during the reopening, labor leaders and community leaders, want Cuomo to issue New York Health and Essential Rights Order
(NY H.E.R.O.), a policy that would require employers to provide health and safety standards in the workplace for all employees and empower workers to raise any concerns they might have about the health and safety of their job.
“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,” read the group’s statement.
Some, like Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union President Stuart Applebaum recommended rapid access to testing and the screening of workers as they enter the workplace. Others want to make sure that the local government keeps the current state of the country in mind when considering these measures.
“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,” said ALIGN Executive Director Maritza Silva-Farrell. “Black workers make up the largest percentage of essential workers in our city, and for the last three months of this pandemic, countless workers have been expected to do their jobs with few protections in place. Gov. Cuomo can do something now and ensure that essential workers aren’t put in jeopardy by their employers by immediately issuing NY H.E.R.O.”
The coalition warns that the re-opening should not be a return to “normalcy,” because that would put Black and Latinx lives in danger more than anyone else. The group states that without more protection for essential workers, they’ll continue to be in danger during the epidemic considering that Black and Latinx people have disproportionate COVID-19 cases when compared to other New Yorkers and have the highest rate of deaths from the infection.
“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,” stated Teamsters Joint Council 16 Pres. George Miranda. “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.”
Essential workers were in danger in different ways recently. According to a story on the new website The Daily Beast, nurses and medics of all kinds who are fighting COVID-19 have been attacked by the police while trying to treat injured protestors. Another Black medic was attacked by cops as he filmed a video of officers getting rough with a detainee. Police regularly attacked Black and Brown essential workers on the way home from work after curfew despite the fact that they were exempt from the decree.
With curfews, militarized police and having to wear trash bags as personal protective equipment in hospitals, essential medical workers face danger daily. Essential employees in other arenas don’t have as much protection as essential medics.
“We’re living within two public health crises, COVID-19 and police violence against Black Americans,” stated Charlene Obernauer, executive director of New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. “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.”
“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,” added UFCW Local 2013 President Mark Carotenuto. “People of color are, by large numbers, employed in what are now considered ESSENTIAL jobs. NOW IS THE TIME FOR CHANGE; RESPECT; UNITY!”