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Workers ‘Demand’ New York State ‘Force’ Employers ‘To Provide On-The-Job Protections’ As Reopening Progresses

Published Sunday, July 12, 2020
by Marc Bussanich/
Workers ‘Demand’ New York State ‘Force’ Employers ‘To Provide On-The-Job Protections’ As Reopening Progresses

(QUEENS, NEW YORK) - Last week, a cross-section of Essential Workers gathered in Jackson Heights, Queens - one of the hardest hit communities during the Coronavirus Pandemic, to demand New York State pass new legislation compelling employers to provide them with necessary protective gear as New York City enters Phase 3 of its re-opening plan.

Representatives of Organized Labor and the Community Group ALIGN (Alliance for Greater New York) jointly held a press conference with Teamsters Joint Council 16 at Diversity Plaza, giving Workers in Transportation, Health Care, Construction, Retail and many other industries an opportunity to tell their stories of what it’s been like working through the Coronavirus crisis. 

ALIGN Community Coordinator Jake Streich-Kest kicked off the press event noting the toll COVID-19 has had on the people of Jackson Heights: “In this ‘zip code, hundreds of people have died, and these neighborhoods are made up of Essential Workers who have kept their city running all throughout this pandemic, all types of folks that kept food on our tables and allowed people to stay alive during this horrific time.’”

He also noted that because of inadequate protections on the job, neighborhoods like Jackson Heights have had some of the highest infections and deaths: “You’ve ‘heard all the stories’ of Workers ‘going into work without masks,’ Nurses’ going to work wearing trash bags,’ folks ‘being retaliated against if they complained or asked for more protections at work.’  As we enter the Phase Three re-opening, Workers ‘will be going back to work and they’re still not knowing what protections they have.’”

Streich-Kest emphasized the need for New York State Legislation mandating employers to provide Workers with Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and establish policies to ensure adequate social distancing and adequate sanitation policies.  “It’s ‘one thing to just say that an employer has to do something, it’s another thing to actually force them to do it,’” he said. 

Judith Crutchin, an Executive Board Member of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), which represents 42,000 Front-Line Nurses across New York, echoed Streich-Kest’s sentiment that there must be state legislation: “The pandemic ‘is far from over and continues to pose an existential threat to Nurses, Essential Workers like you and the public at large.’  New York needs to enter Phase Three ‘with our eyes wide open and with a strong, strong sense of responsibility.’” 

Robert Pena drives a Sanitation Truck, but has not seen his employer sanitize any of the vehicles in the company’s fleet.

One colleague actually died from COVID-19 even though he had told his boss he was feeling ill and did not want to report to work.

Pena’s concerned about his own health and is taking special precautions before visiting family members: “It’s ‘not fair to us.’  ‘We all have families.’  ‘My own father is a kidney recipient, so I have to talk to him through a window because I don’t know what I have.’  ‘I truly believe that we should have a Bill passed so that we will all be protected.’” 

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