Legislative package to protect essential workers includes paid sick leave for gig-workers, whistleblower protections and general protections against unfair firing, and premium pay 

NEW YORK — Council Member Brad Lander today joined in the announcement of NYC’s Essential Workers Bill of Rights, a package of legislation to provide essential workers with rights and protections as they work to keep New Yorkers fed, moving, supplied, and cared for during the COVID-19 pandemic:

“Every night, New Yorkers are cheering wildly to thank the people who are stocking shelves in our grocery stores, delivering food and supplies, driving people to work and appointments, and caring for sick New Yorkers in our hospitals and nursing homes. With this legislation, we’ll go beyond cheering to make sure they have the pay, sick leave, dignity, and workplace protections they so deeply deserve. 

I’m thrilled to join Speaker Johnson, Majority Leader Cumbo, and Council Member Kallos to introduce NYC’s Essential Workers Bill of Rights, to ensure that these frontline workers are able to take paid sick leave, are protected against unfair firings, especially when they speak out about safety conditions, and are compensated for the risk and sacrifice they are undertaking for our collective benefit.

Paid Sick Leave for Gig Workers

More than 450,000 New Yorkers working in the “gig economy,” disproportionately immigrants, women, and people of color, are currently excluded from New York City’s strong Paid Sick and Safe Leave law. My proposed legislation would expand paid sick leave to include these Instacart food delivery workers, Uber and Lyft drivers, nail salon technicians, cleaners, home care workers, and others whose work is under the control or direction of the company who hires them. The bill will use the well-established ‘ABC test’ to distinguish those workers whose hiring companies must provide paid sick leave from properly-classified freelancers.

Whistleblower Protection/Protection from Being Fired without a Just Cause

Across the country and right here in NYC, healthcare workers on the frontlines of this pandemic who have been raising the alarm about dire shortages of personal protective equipment have faced gag-orders, disciplinary action, and even dismissal. While we fight to ensure that they get the protective equipment they need to safely care for sick people, we also must protect their ability to continue to speak out about the conditions they are facing. 

Council Member Kallos’ bill, which I am proud to co-sponsor, will insure that they cannot be fired without just cause, and make clear that blowing the whistle on dangerous policies is not a just cause for dismissal. This ‘just-cause’ provision will help protect the jobs of hundreds of thousands of workers and enable them to speak out in the interest of public safety when needed.

Credit is due here to courageous fast-food workers, who have been advocating for ‘just cause’ protections over the past two years. I am proud to be the sponsor of that legislation, which serves as a model for today’s legislation.  

Pay Premiums for Essential Workers

Workers in grocery stores, subways, warehouses, and those delivering food and packages are at far greater risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus than those of us who are able to stay home.

Speaker Johnson and Majority Leader Cumbo’s bill would guarantee that they receive premium pay that recognizes the risks they are taking on behalf of all of us, more fairly values their work, and helps support them and their families in the event that they become ill. The proposed bill requires employers with more than 100 employees to pay hourly workers $30 for a shift under four hours, $60 for a shift of four to eight hours and $75 dollars for any shift over eight hours.  Many of the workers in the most essential jobs are undervalued and underpaid already, the least we can do is make sure they are fairly compensated for keeping all of us fed, supplied, and safe.

Resolution in Support of Proper Classification of Gig-Workers as Employees

While granting gig-workers paid sick leave is a good first step, I am also sponsoring a resolution calling on New York State to use this same ‘ABC test’ as the standard for classifying a worker as an employee, which would entitle gig-workers to the array of benefits other employees receive, including workers compensation, unemployment insurance, health care, etc.  

We take inspiration from the proposal from Senators Warren and Khanna to create an Essential Workers Bill of Rights at the national level, and are proud to take the first steps here in NYC to ensure that the workers who are keeping our city running get the rights, protections, and pay that they deserve. We will continue to consider other potential elements that are necessary in this package, such as ensuring that essential workers receive the personal protective equipment they need to perform their jobs safely.

When the banging of pots and pans has subsided, these new laws will stand as an enduring tribute to the courage and hard work of New York City’s essential workers, in our hour of need.”

More details on the Essential Workers Bill of Rights, as well as other COVID-19 relief legislation that will be introduced tomorrow, can be found in the Council’s press release here.

Advocates for workers spoke out in support of the proposals and urged the Council to enact the NYC Essential Workers Bill of Rights: 

“Frontline workers staffing our hospitals, grocery stores, Amazon warehouses, and app-based delivery services are risking their health to provide the essential services on which we all rely during this time of crisis. The protections guaranteed by the NYC Essential Workers Bill of Rights — recognition pay, paid sick leave, and protection from being fired when they speak up about job conditions — are the minimum this workforce deserves. We congratulate the city council for its leadership on these issues and urge that it move forward quickly with this important package,” said Paul Sonn, state policy program director at the National Employment Law Project.

“Gig economy workers and freelancers who were barely making ends meet in a supposedly good economy are openly struggling during this pandemic,” said Daisy Alioto, Strategy Co-Chair of the Freelance Solidarity Project. “Paid sick leave is the least we can do for workers who deliver our food, transport us, clean our buildings and more. The fact that many of these workers don’t currently have a safety net mirrors the scourge of permalance jobs in the media industry: ongoing roles with all of the expectations of an employee and none of the benefits. We stand in solidarity with these workers and the efforts of the City Council to expand paid sick leave. Furthermore, we support whistleblower protections so that no person who draws attention to unsafe working conditions can be subject to retaliation.”

“This pandemic has vividly demonstrated the need to afford basic protections to essential workers. It has also demonstrated the cruelty and harm of companies misclassifying their workforces as “independent contractors” in order to strip their workers of existing labor protections. We applaud the City Council leadership and Council Member Lander for pursuing remedies to these gaping holes in our commitment to the people who make this City run and keep us safe and for calling on the State to do the same with the wide range of New York labor laws,” said Richard Blum, Staff Attorney, The Legal Aid Society.

“This unprecedented time has exposed the fragility of our economy and the deep inequalities in which we co-exist. Workers who are deemed essential for our survival are the same workers who we have failed as a society to recognize and value. It is time to change the course”, said Maritza Silva-Farrell, Executive Director of ALIGN. “We applaud Speaker Corey Johnson and the council for their leadership on the introduction of this first-of-its-kind package of bills. If expanded and made permanent, these bills have the potential to make deep structural changes to ensure that all workers have economic stability and are protected and safe at their workplace.”

“The nail salon I worked at before the coronavirus pandemic misclassified me as an independent contractor, which meant I did not have basic workplace protections,” said Yanelia Ramirez, member of the NY Nail Salon Workers Association. “Due to the nature of our work, nail salon workers are at a high risk of getting sick, but when we are misclassified we have to decide between staying home and losing pay or going to work sick. This is not only a risk to our health, but also to the health of our clients and the general public. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the connection between worker health and public health, and returning to business as usual once salons are able to re-open is a risk to everyone. Workers must be able to stay home when they are sick, and this bill would provide some assurance that I could take care of myself and my family without putting others at risk.”

“This legislative package offers urgently-needed support for the hardest hit communities in New York City. New York City must take action to protect essential workers and ensure their rights are respected. Today, again, Amazon workers are holding a day of action to call out that corporation’s unwillingness to put its workers’ safety and that of all of us ahead of its ability to profit off of this public health crisis. Amazon’s response? To try to intimidate and fire the whistleblowers working to keep all of us safe. Today Speaker Johnson, with Councilmembers Kallos and Lander, say that this city will not tolerate profiteering off of the well being of the most vulnerable workers and tenants in our city. This action stands in sharp contrast to the hateful exclusion of immigrants from Congressional relief and Unemployment Insurance, and Albany’s failure to step into the breach,” said Deborah Axt, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York.

“Workers are putting their own lives on the line to keep us safe and fed.  They deserve more than just our thanks and gratitude in these challenging times – they are essential workers and deserve essential pay. They are shouldering extra burdens, taking extra risks and experiencing incredible stress – none of which were supposed to be part of their jobs.  They more than deserve additional compensation,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).

“This legislative package provides a range of important safeguards for New Yorkers during and beyond the pandemic. We applaud Speaker Johnson and the Council for taking a holistic approach to protecting the city’s workers, residents, and small businesses. We look forward to working together to ensure that low-income communities and communities of color do not continue bearing the brunt of this crisis,” said Barika X. Williams, Executive Director, Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (ANHD).