Progressive lawmakers, advocates celebrate signing of NY HERO Act

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ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed off on the New York Health and Essential Rights, or “HERO” Act, aimed at boosting safety in the workplace following a year where front-line and essential workers put their health on the line each day.

The law will require businesses to adopt standards to safeguard employees from COVID-19 and other infectious diseases; the Department of Labor and the Department of Health will set “enforceable” standards that businesses must follow.

Most workplaces will also need to allow employees to form safety committees. Additionally, it protects workers from retaliation if they report health and safety violations at work. 

Advocates and progressive lawmakers are taking a victory lap now that the New York HERO Act has been signed into law. 

“What we’re celebrating is not only the passage of NY HERO, but we’re celebrating the power of our frontline workers,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell with ALIGN-NY.

Union leaders throughout the state are also hailing the law as a measure that is desperately needed as the state is slowing coming out of this awful pandemic.

“This is a great day for workers’ safety,” declared Mario Cilenti, president the powerful AFL-CIO union in New York state. “The bill establishes the new standards and protocols on levels of PPE, employee testing, staffing policies, social distancing and other measures to insure safety and decrease exposure.”

The bill also aimed at providing an extra layer of safety for essential workers and first responders.

“For me, as a nurse, it’s so important to have these protections in place because I know how it has been affecting our workers, how many lives we’ve lost because of this,” said Assemblymember Karines Reyes, who sponsored the bill.

The legislation has been criticized by business groups who say the rules will lead to lawsuits and added costs. 

While they recognize the positive intent of the law, businesses said it’s simply too much for them to handle as they struggle to recover from this pandemic.

Thomas O’Connor, vice president of the Capital Region Chamber argued now is not the time to add more red tape.

“Now they’re going to be hit with another set of mandates and regulations and face possible law suits, that’s not how to drive recovery,” he said.

The HERO Act sets stringent penalties up to $10,000 for businesses that fail to comply.  O’Conner points out that “it creates a right of action, which would allow an employee to bring a civil suit against an employer for failing to meet the standards of the new regulations.”

Though the governor signed the bill into law, it was on the condition that lawmakers will make some amendments.

The implementation is now expected to take a total 90 days rather than the original 30.

Sen. Mike Gianaris, the bill’s cosponsor, said he plans to amend the bill to give employers a window of opportunity to fix violations.

“There’s a 30-day window when they’re notified of violations of the safety requirements that they would have a chance to fix it before they would be subject to enforcement or lawsuits,” Gianaris, who represents parts of Queens and Brooklyn, said.

Gianaris said he expects the amendments will be passed before the end of the legislative session.

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