Package of bills include a NYC Essential Workers Bill of Rights
NEW YORK, NY – The New York City Council will introduce a COVID-19 relief package that aims to protect tenants, help small businesses survive, and find creative ways to address the public health crisis brought on by the virus. Highlights include a bill that extends time for COVID-impacted tenants to repay rent and pay back debts, as well as new protections from harassment for all renters, including the City’s small businesses.
This package will also include a NYC Essential Workers Bill of Rights. The bills would require premiums for non-salaried essential employees at large companies, prohibitions on the firing of essential workers without just cause, and paid sick leave for gig workers.
All of the bills will be introduced on Wednesday at the Council’s first ever remote Stated Hearing. The Council will hold hearings on each of the bills over the next week and a half.
“We are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis for our City, and mourning the loss of so many neighbors, friends and fellow New Yorkers. But even in this dark time, we must be laser-focused on helping New York City emerge from this crisis while prioritizing our public health. These bills provide relief where it is needed most right now, including protecting tenants from eviction. It’s essential that New Yorkers get the rent cancellation they need, but in the meantime, we need to give renters peace of mind that we won’t let them suffer irreparable harms. We’re also protecting small businesses and essential workers, who have been so hard hit. We must take these steps to help make sure that New York City remains the vibrant, diverse and exciting place it was before COVID ravaged our neighborhoods,” said Speaker Corey Johnson.
“Essential workers are putting their lives on the line every day to keep this City running and to keep New Yorkers safe. We must treat these workers with the respect and dignity they deserve. The bill that I am sponsoring with Speaker Johnson would ensure these critical workers are compensated in a way that reflects their critical contributions towards our City’s health and economy in the short and long-term,” said Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo.
“COVID-19 exposed many weaknesses and inequities in our society and at this critical time the New York City Council must think about those on whom this pandemic will fall most heavily. Our small businesses, including those impacted by COVID-19, are the backbone of New York City’s economy and the embodiment of the American dream. These small businesses are struggling right now and we must strengthen protections against commercial tenant harassment so that they will have the opportunity to thrive in the future. I applaud Speaker Johnson for his leadership on the COVID-19 relief package and look forward to its passage,” said Council Member Adrienne Adams.
“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,” said Council Member Brad Lander.
“Harassment and retaliation against COVID-19 impacted tenants pose an urgent risk, and tenants must be protected against unscrupulous landlords during these extremely difficult and uncertain times. This bill would make harassing a tenant based on their status as a COVID-19 impacted person, illegal. We need strong tenant protections in place to ensure everyone who has a home is able to keep it,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres.
“The COVID-19 crisis has shaken every sector of New York to its core, and we must respond in an unprecedented manner to protect our most vulnerable, rebuild our economy, and ensure our City emerges a more equitable and safer one. While I’ve been focusing day in and day out on providing oversight of our City’s hospitals, we also must start to look to the future. My bills to open city streets and suspending personal liability on commercial leases will be critical to re-opening our economy and I look forward to the Council passing them along with all of the bills in this legislative package,” said Council Member Carlina Rivera.
“During these unprecedented times, our City needs to take bold steps to protect all New Yorkers. Our city’s hospital and frontline workers are the hands-on heroes of this crisis. They must be allowed to speak up to protect their safety and the wellbeing of patients and customers without risking their jobs. They are the whistleblowers who can tell us the full story so we know where our healthcare and system essential services are succeeding and where we need to do more to fight this pandemic and save as many lives as we can. We must protect our frontline workers now more than ever with strong protections, as many of them may be forced to sound the alarm about safety conditions at their facilities. Thank you to Speaker Corey Johnson for this substantive package of legislation that will help bring New York City through this tough time,” said Council Member Ben Kallos.
“The devastation of the coronavirus pandemic is everywhere and has left virtually no one and no part of the economy untouched. These bills will bring desperately-needed relief and critical protections for the workers, small businesses, and tenants who are bearing the brunt of this crisis. I’m proud to work alongside Speaker Johnson and my colleagues in City Council to ensure our relief measures are truly inclusive of our most vulnerable communities and we do not allow anyone to slip through the cracks during this time of need,” said Council Member Andrew Cohen.
“I am proud to sponsor a bill with Speaker Johnson that addresses the systemic issues in our shelter system that make it impossible for residents to observe social distancing. Those issues put all New Yorkers at risk, which is why we are addressing them is so important in this public health crisis. This crisis has shown in stark terms that we are all interconnected. It is inhumane and dangerous to allow New Yorkers to remain in unsafe shelter conditions,” said Council Member Stephen Levin.
NYC Essential Workers’ Bill of Rights
- Premiums for essential workers (Sponsored by Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo and Speaker Johnson): The Council will consider legislation that would require large employers to pay premiums to certain essential non-salaried workers. The 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. The obligation would end when the state of emergency is lifted.
- Just cause rights for essential workers (Sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, Speaker Johnson, and Council Member Brad Lander): The Council will consider legislation to prohibit all hiring parties of essential workers from firing those workers without just cause. This bill will help protect essential workers and enable them to openly identify their concerns on the job or organize with other workers without fear of retaliation.
- Paid sick leave for gig workers (Council Member Lander): The Council will consider legislation to extend paid sick leave to independent contractors. Independent contractors were not included in the paid sick leave bill passed by the New York State Legislature for employees, even if their work is controlled or directed by the company that hires them. This bill would close that loophole and help give these front-line gig workers the paid sick leave they need to keep themselves, their families, the New Yorkers they serve safe.
- Resolution on misclassification (Council Member Lander): An estimated 850,000 low-paid independent contractors in New York State may be misclassified and should properly be classified as employees. Some businesses intentionally misclassify these workers to avoid the burden of paying benefits to employees. As a result, many of these misclassified workers are working on the frontlines of this crisis without the safety net that should be available to them. The Council will consider a Resolution urging the State Legislature to put the burden of proof on employers to classify workers as independent contractors.
Protecting New York City’s Renters
- Extending time for all NYC renters to repay rent, blocking evictions, and collection of debts (Sponsored by Speaker Johnson): The State must act now to provide real relief to vulnerable renters. While Governor Cuomo’s statewide 90-day eviction moratorium provided renters with temporary relief, the City must ensure that its impacted tenants are protected from evictions in the long-term as they get back on their feet and recover from the harmful impacts of this crisis. The Council will therefore consider legislation that prevents marshals and the City’s sheriffs from the taking and restitution of property or the execution of money judgments. This means that evictions and the collection of debt would be paused for all NYC renters, including residential and commercial tenants. It also means those renters would have additional time to repay their rent. This bar would apply to actions against all New Yorkers through the duration of this crisis. Further, for New Yorkers impacted by COVID-19, marshals and sheriffs would be barred from collecting debts and performing evictions until April 2021.
- Protecting tenants from COVID-related harassment and discrimination (Sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres and Speaker Corey Johnson): We must ensure that bad-actor landlords cannot use this crisis as an excuse to harass vulnerable tenants out of their homes. The Council will consider legislation that would make harassing a tenant based on their status as person impacted by COVID-19, including whether they are an essential worker or because they were laid off, or because they’ve received a rental concession or forbearance. Violations would be punishable by a civil penalty of $2,000 to $10,000.
Prioritizing Public Health
- Providing safe shelter (Sponsored by Council Member Stephen Levin and Speaker Johnson): Sheltering at home isn’t possible if you don’t have a home. The crowded conditions of our shelter system do not allow residents to take necessary precautions or observe social distancing. This is a danger to all New Yorkers during this public health crisis. The Council will therefore consider legislation that will require the City to provide each single adult homeless individual with a private room through the end of the pandemic and implement protocols to reduce risk of infection. In effect, this would require the City to temporarily close many shelters and move residents to hotels or other facilities with private rooms.
- Mandating open City streets (Sponsored by Council Member Carlina Rivera and Speaker Johnson): The Council will consider legislation to open city streets to pedestrians and cyclists during the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic to allow New Yorkers more room for social distancing as essential workers commute and while enjoying the short- and long-term health benefits of being outdoors. The bill will require the city to create more street space for pedestrians and cyclists throughout the five boroughs, with a citywide target of 75 miles of open streets.
Protecting New York City’s Small Businesses
- Commercial tenant harassment (Sponsored by Council Member Adrienne Adams and Speaker Johnson): With limited federal relief funds, many businesses affected by this crisis will be unable to pay their rent. We must protect the City’s small, independently owned, and immigrant-owned businesses from the threat of harassment, many of which were running on thin margins and struggling to pay rent even before this crisis. The Council will consider legislation to make threatening any commercial tenant based on their status as a COVID-19 impacted business or person a form of harassment punishable by a civil penalty of $10,000 to $50,000.
- Suspending personal liability on commercial leases (Sponsored by Council Member Rivera and Speaker Johnson): The Council will consider legislation to temporarily suspend personal liability provisions in leases and other rental agreements of COVID-19 impacted businesses while the state of emergency is in effect, ensuring that City business owners don’t face the loss of their businesses and personal financial ruin or bankruptcy.
- Suspending sidewalk cafe fees (Sponsored by Council Member Andrew Cohen): The Council will consider legislation to suspend annual sidewalk café fees. Reducing this fixed cost for the City’s cash-strapped restaurants, bars and nightlife is one common-sense step the Council can take to reduce the severe financial burden that has fallen on these impacted businesses.
WHAT ADVOCATES ARE SAYING:
“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.
“It’s clear the City Council and its leadership have listened to small business owners and are taking quick action to support local restaurants, bars and clubs during the COVID-19 crisis. This package of small business relief bills is a critical step in our effort to save our beloved eating and drinking spots. We thank Speaker Johnson and the Council for their support and urge the swift passage and enactment of this legislation,” said Andrew Rigie, Executive Director, and Robert Bookman, Counsel of the New York City Hospitality Alliance.
“With tens of thousands of empty hotel rooms, there is no reason for any vulnerable New Yorker to be left on the streets or in dangerous congregate shelters where social distancing is impossible and COVID-19 can spread easily. New York City must immediately move to provide safe shelter for single homeless adults and homeless families during this deadly pandemic. Every day that the City fails to take action is a day lost in preventing the spread of COVID-19 to, and among, our most vulnerable neighbors,” said Giselle Routhier, Policy Director at Coalition for the Homeless.
“As New York fights and emerges from this crisis, we need to ensure that New Yorkers who must be out have the safe space they require for physical distancing. We are grateful to Speaker Johnson and Council Member Rivera for stepping up for New Yorkers by advancing this ambitious open streets plan. We look forward to working together to bring much needed space to every neighborhood,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Danny Harris.
“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).
“We commend the City Council for introducing legislation to protect vulnerable New Yorkers who have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our clients, whether they are essential workers on the front lines of the crisis, low-income tenants who can’t afford their rents, or homeless individuals in shelters, deserve meaningful solutions and relief from the unprecedented impact of the coronavirus,” said Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society.
“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).
“Thank you, Corey Johnson, and thanks to the City Council, for showing how to legislate while maintaining safe physical distancing. Tenants PAC applauds these initiatives to protect tenants from eviction, harassment and debt burdens during a public health crisis that makes it impossible for so many to pay rent. Without rent forgiveness, thousands of renters will face eviction once these temporary protections end, but this package offers a helpful step,” said Michael McKee, Treasurer of the Tenants Political Action Committee (PAC).
“Stopping evictions for a year is essential in a moment where the state has yet to act to cancel rent. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers can’t pay rent and will become homeless once the Governor lifts his eviction moratorium in June. Thank you, Speaker Johnson for looking out for tenants in this time of great uncertainty,” said Yolande Cadore, Acting Executive Director of Tenants and Neighbors.
“We applaud Speaker Johnson for taking an important step toward ensuring that millions of NYC tenants are not evicted as a result of a pandemic and economic crisis that is no fault of their own. Now more than ever we understand that housing is healthcare and it should be a human right. The next step is to cancel and forgive rent statewide during this crisis,” said Ava Farkas, Executive Director of the Met Council on Housing.