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Health & Medicine

Supporters Herald Signing Of NYS HERO Act Worker Protections

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo Wednesday signed the New York Health and Essential Rights Act, or HERO Act, calling it “a historic step forward for working people.” The law sets enforceable health and safety standards to protect workers from COVID-19 and future airborne infectious diseases in the workplace. Supporters held a celebratory news conference on Zoom on Thursday.

Under the measure, the State Health and Labor Departments will design minimum standards for workplace health and safety during all infectious disease outbreaks. Business will have to provide personal protective equipment for all employees, set up safe social distancing and disinfecting protocols, and ensure adequate airflow.

Stuart Appelbaum, head of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, is among many union leaders who backed the bill. He said nearly all of his members were declared essential workers during the pandemic and risked their health and lives while others were able to remain at home. He said the law “crystallizes” what was learned during the pandemic.

We have taken the best practices for protecting workers and we have set those practices in stone,” Appelbaum said.

He added that the law will “save lives” and ensure that the state is better prepared for the next pandemic.

But business groups oppose the new law, saying it places new regulatory burdens on employers who have struggled financially during the pandemic. They also worry about provisions that allow the public to sue businesses who are not in compliance, which could lead to costly and frivolous lawsuits.  

Under the HERO Act, employers who fail to comply with the new regulations face fines of up to $50 a day — up to a maximum of $10,000.

In a statement, the state’s Business Council says the legislation goes “well beyond what is necessary to assure that workplaces are safe for employees and customers during public health crises.”

State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris, the bill's sponsor in the state Senate, disputed the business groups’ claims that the law is costly and unnecessary.

It is not a cost saving mechanism to put your employees and customers at risk of death,” Gianaris said.

The recently approved state budget, he said, includes $1 billion in relief for small businesses.

Cuomo, who did not advocate for the measure, said lawmakers agreed to make some changes to the law that the legislature will approve later in the session.

Sponsors say they will change the date which the bill goes into effect, from 30 days to 90 days, and will give businesses owners a 30-day window to correct any violations before they face sanctions.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, the governor said  he was "proud" to sign the law," and called it "a preventative measure that will ensure we're better prepared for the next public health crisis."