NEW YORK — Essential workers in transportation, sanitation, and personal service industries joined NYC Council Members Brad Lander, Ben Kallos and Laurie Cumbo and advocates for a virtual press conference in support of a proposed legislative package that would set a national precedent on rights for many workers who have long been underpaid and underprotected. Workers urged the City to go beyond cheering nightly for essential workers and pass long-lasting protections to ensure fair compensation, sick leave, and protections against unfair firings for workers who are risking their health to keep New York City running. Video from the press conference is available here

The Committee on Civil Service and Labor will hold a hearing on Tuesday, May 5 beginning at 10 AM (the hearing will be livestreamed on the council website). Workers in essential jobs, unions, and business associations are expected to testify. If passed, the package would make New York City the first locality to explicitly expand paid sick days to cover app-based and other misclassified workers, set a national precedent on legislating just cause protections, and serve as a significant intervention into the debate over the rights of misclassified workers.

“This pandemic has exposed the fragility of our deeply unequal economy,” said Council Member and Deputy Leader for Policy Brad Lander. “Workers who have long been treated as disposable are now being cheered as essential. Recognition is not enough, we owe these workers who are risking their own health and that of their families long-lasting protections, better pay, paid leave, and job security.” 

The COVID-19 crisis has had a devastating impact on communities of color across the city, as existing health issues and lack of health care, overcrowded apartments, and the inability to work from home became risk factors. Workers of color make up 75 percent of all essential workers, many working to clean buildings, stock grocery shelves, deliver food and packages, and keep the trains and buses running, and other essential services. 

The NYC “Essential Workers Bill of Rights” package includes four legislative proposals:

Paid sick leave for misclassified gig workers

Int. 1926 (Lander) would amend the definition of “employee” in NYC’s Earned Safe and Sick Time Act to extend the Act’s benefits to app-based and other misclassified workers who meet certain conditions. The bill would apply retroactively, dating back to January 1, 2020. If passed, this legislation would make New York City the first locality to explicitly give gig workers like Doordash and Grubhub delivery workers, Handy cleaners, and Uber and Lyft drivers paid sick leave.

Just cause protections against unfair firings

Int. 1923 (Kallos) would prohibit employers from firing an essential employee without just cause. As an at-will employment state, the majority of workers in New York can be fired at any time for any reason. This lack of protection against unfair firings has made it possible for hospitals to threaten health care workers who speak out about a shortage of personal protective equipment with termination, and for companies like Amazon to fire workers who organized to demand better sanitation measures to keep workers safe.

“No New Yorker should lose their job simply for requesting the necessary equipment needed to do their job during a pandemic. Our city’s essential workers are real heroes that deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, complete with job protections for putting their lives on the line,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “Thank you to Speaker Corey Johnson, Council Member Brad Lander, and our brothers and sisters in labor for joining us in our fight to protect essential workers.”  

Pay premiums for hourly workers

Int. 1918 (Cumbo) would require large employers to pay premiums to certain essential non-salaried workers: Employers with more than 100 employees would 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. The obligation would end when the state of emergency is lifted. 

“Our city recognizes the importance of essential workers every night, when we share applause for these frontline heroes at 7 PM. However my colleagues and I, Councilmember Ben Kallos and Councilmember Brad Lander, feel that it is time to codify protections and set precedent so that our essential workers and their value is respected by written law and compensation. My bill, Intro 1918, would ensure that all essential workers receive hazard pay for the courageous sacrifices they are making on a daily basis by reporting to work. I thank my colleagues for rising to the occasion in asserting paid sick leave for gig workers, protecting our essential workers from unjust firings, and addressing misclassifications of essential work. We must continue to fight for one another, because we will  always be stronger together. Let’s get our Essential Workers just compensation,” said Councilmember Laurie Cumbo.

Addressing misclassification at the state level
Res. 1285 (Lander) calls on the New York State Legislature to pass, and the Governor to sign, legislation clarifying the test for classification of workers as independent contractors or employees by extending the test set forth in Articles 25-B and 25-C of the New York Labor Law to apply to all workers. This action would affect an estimated 850,000 workers statewide who are excluded from a minimum wage, health care, sick leave, unemployment insurance, and many other employee benefits. 

Comments from Workers and Advocates: 

“As a unionized worker I have been able to speak up for my own safety and that of my coworkers without fear of retribution. Citibike listened and together the Union and Management have instituted a robust COVID19 Union/Management cooperation effort that has made Citibike a model worksite in the midst of the pandemic – all workers Union and Non-Union must have these same protections so they can speak up and ensure their safety,” said Edwin Aviles, chief shop steward at TWU Bikeshare Union. “As this virus rips through our communities and puts us and our families in increased economic peril – we need premium pay to support ourselves and our families. As I take on the ongoing risk of working everyday, I should be paid enough to support myself and my family through this pandemic.”

“As a nail salon worker, my health is at risk due to chemical exposure and long hours of physical work, but because I am misclassified as an independent contractor I am denied the sick days I am entitled to,” said Maria Hernandez, member of the NY Nail Salon Workers Association. “I can’t afford to miss work, which means that when I am sick I put myself at further risk, and also put my clients and the general public at risk of exposure. The coronavirus pandemic has shown us that leaving workers unprotected damages public health. Going back to ‘business as usual’ when the salons re-open is not a safe option.  We need to pass Intro 1926 to protect workers and public health.”

“Essential workers are not expendable workers. The workers who are put in harm’s way caring for the sick and delivering food and medical supplies deserve to be fairly compensated and protected on the job. Not only have their workloads and on-the-job stress increased dramatically in recent weeks, but simply by commuting and showing up, they risk being exposed to the virus. Thank you to Speaker Johnson and the City Council for its leadership in putting the safety and support of essential workers first,” said George Miranda, President, Teamsters Joint Council 16.

“No one should have to choose between their livelihood or their life. Essential workers need health and safety protections to keep themselves, their families, and the public safe; and they need to feel protected when they blow the whistle on unsafe practices. We need better pay and better paid sick leave for all workers—and that includes independent contractors—in order to get through the COVID-19 crisis. Nurses stand in solidarity with ALL workers, and commit to working together for a SAFE re-opening of businesses, with justice and dignity for all workers,” said NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, RN.

“Our essential workers are putting their lives on the line each and every day. Those who do not have the luxury of working from home deserve fair pay and the strongest health and safety protections possible. We need this package of legislation to ensure justice for those New Yorkers who are risking their health and well-being to keep our city moving. I applaud Speaker Johnson and Councilmembers Lander, Kallos and Cumbo for leading this fight and urge the City Council to take action,” said Dennis Trainor, Vice President, Communications Workers of America District 1.

“Essential workers are putting their lives on the line every day during this crisis. We are able to see, with more clarity than ever, that these workers are the connective tissue that holds our economy together. We as a society have a responsibility to ensure they have the protections they need, the rights they are entitled to and the compensation they deserve.” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, Executive Director of ALIGN. “We applaud Speaker Corey Johnson and the City Council for their leadership.” 

“This pandemic has vividly demonstrated the need to afford basic protections to essential workers. Our clients and all workers on the frontlines who make this city run and keep us safe deserve meaningful legislation, and we commend the City Council for introducing this package of bills,” said Richard Blum, Staff Attorney in the Employment Law Unit at The Legal Aid Society.

“It has never been more crucial to protect the health and safety of New York’s essential workers, who are risking their lives for us each day on the frontlines of this crisis. We applaud the Council for putting forward a package to support these workers and are especially happy that amendments to the paid sick time law which we helped enact in 2013 will insure that more essential workers can access the paid sick time they need now more than ever,” said Molly Weston Williamson,  Director of Paid Leave and Future of Work and Senior Staff Attorney at A Better Balance.

“Frontline workers staffing our nursing homes, grocery stores, Amazon warehouses, and app-based delivery services are providing the essential services on which we are all relying to weather the crisis. These workers – 75% of whom are Black, Latinx or Asian – didn’t ask for this. But they’re risking their lives so that many of us don’t have to. Most are underpaid – and are under great economic strain with family members sick and out of work. It’s not enough to call them heroes. They need and deserve the basic protections that the New York City Essential Workers Bill of Rights would guarantee: extra premium pay, paid sick leave, and protection from being fired when they speak up about job conditions. We thank Speaker Johnson, and Council Members Lander, Kallos and Cumbo for their leadership on these crucial issues and urge that the council move forward quickly with this important package,” said Paul Sonn, state policy program director at the National Employment Law Project.