CNY Workers' Rights Advocates Concerned About Vulnerable Employees as Regions Begin to Reopen

May 11, 2020

The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health is dedicated to workers health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Central New York workers' rights groups want to ensure workplaces are safe as the region prepares to start the reopening process.  While most might see restarting the economy as a sign of progress, others are worried about the area’s vulnerable residents.

Governor Cuomo says manufacturing, construction, landscaping, and agriculture are among the businesses could resume here and in neighboring regions by week’s end.  But advocates say those who typically work in those sectors are immigrants and minorities with little or no health insurance making low wages.    Jeanette Zoeckler is Director of Preventive Services at the Occupational Health Clinical Center in Syracuse. 


"You're going into a really scary time of reopening, and there's so much we really don't know yet.  So we're really worried about the jobs need to be safe jobs and healthy jobs as we reopen the economy."

Zoeckler joined a recent Facebook live event hosted by the Workers Center of CNY.  She worries workplaces won’t be prepared to safely welcome back employees.

"The dangers at work have to be controlled.  It's not only personal protection equipment that is a part of controlling dangers.  But there are many other ways like eliminating the danger, substituting something in the way, designing something different, or just scheduling, administrative-type demands."

Zoeckler says workers have the right to be protected from typical workplace hazards, and now, from a dangerous virus.  Others say COVID-19 has exposed weaknesses in the health care system.  Ursula Rozum is with the Campaign for New York Health, a statewide coalition behind a movement to create universal health care. 


"We have to think about how this system can hold in the face of the pandemic, and it's not holding up.  We are learning the people facing the brunt of the current crisis are the exact same people who were struggling to get health care before the people, indigenous people, immigrants, people with disabilities, undocumented immigrants."

Rozum says the pandemic has revealed a new level of racism and inequality that only a universal, single-payer system can resolve. 

Those who have concerns over workplace safety can contact the Occupational Health Clinical Center at 315-432-8899.