Workers need protection and relief as pandemic rages
Stuart Appelbaum President, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union www.rwdsu.org Twitter: @sappelbaum | 10/15/2020, midnight
With the White House a bona fide coronavirus hot spot, and case numbers rising in dozens of states, one thing is abundantly clear—we are still in the midst of the pandemic, and experts say we may well be entering into a second wave of the biggest public health crisis in a century. It’s been a long year and we’ve made progress, but with infection rates climbing in New York City, now is not the time to let down our guard.
Working men and women remain on the front lines of this pandemic. It’s a battle they did not choose, but it’s a responsibility they have accepted, and we owe these frontline workers a great debt. Essential workers in health care and at our supermarkets and retail stores as well as others have been there for us throughout this crisis, often at great personal cost to themselves and their families.
We need to continue supporting one another as we cope with the rising numbers and continuing pandemic. And that means continuing to follow the protocols and guidelines as established by health experts—even if President Trump and his short-sighted allies continue to flout them as the virus steamrolls the White House. New York needs to lead by example, as it did in the early days of the pandemic.
Right now, the legislature is considering the NY Heroes Act. The bill would codify enforceable COVID workplace health and safety standards, rather than just guidelines. Businesses would be directed to protect all workers in New York through protocols including testing, facemasks, PPE, social distancing and disinfection, under possible penalty of strong fines. The most egregious violators may face injunctions from the Department of Labor, and enforcement mechanisms will be strengthened to protect workers and make sure all businesses are providing safe workplaces.
Employers would also be required to allow workers to form workplace health and safety committees with the power to raise complaints and report violations. We enthusiastically support this legislation, and we look forward to the governor signing it.
We also support the proposed New York Billionaires tax, a tax on the wealthiest New Yorkers which would raise up to $25 billion annually to cover a new unemployment insurance fund for workers impacted by COVID-19. But these proposed protections and legislations are only part of the story. The economic damage we are experiencing is deep and will linger for some time. Retail in New York has been hit particularly hard, and as a result, countless thousands of retail workers are unemployed or working severely reduced hours. Working people need continued economic support to get through these trying times. And that includes the thousands of hard-working undocumented workers who cannot access any government support because of their immigration status. We can and should change that. It’s clear our federal government has abandoned New York, and it’s up to us to do something about this. No one should be left behind because of the incompetence of the federal response and the refusal of the president and Republicans in Congress to negotiate an economic relief bill in good faith. New Yorkers have proven since the start of the pandemic that we can look out for each other and band together in the face of adversity. We can all get through this together.