The New York City Council introduced a slew of bills to protect essential workers during the novel coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday during its first virtual stated meeting.
“Essential workers are our heroes right now and they deserve more than our gratitude and support,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson during a Zoom press conference before the stated meeting. “ This is about protecting these workers not just through our words.”
One bill in the package, introduced by Councilmembers Ben Kallos, Brad Lander and Speaker Johnson, proposes an expansion of “whistleblower” protections for essential workers from being fired without “just cause.”
In early April, Lawmakers planned to propose legislation to protect healthcare workers after reports of hospitals threatening to fire doctors and nurses for speaking out about personal protective equipment shortages. The legislation now protects any essential worker, like a healthcare or transit workers, and those working in any essential business like a grocery store, pharmacies, post offices or food bank.
“With the pandemic everything that is wrong with our society has been magnified,” said Councilmember Kallos. “ In many cases people who are saying that we don’t have the protection, you are sending us to war without any weapons, are being retaliated against…having these protections will mean that somebody doing the right thing is not going to lose their job.”
According to the bill, employers could face fines of up to $2,500 for violations.
The legislation is part of an essential worker’s “bill of rights.” Other legislation introduced includes a bill allowing essential workers paid sick leave for gig workers and premiums for non-salaried essential workers at companies until the city’s state of emergency is lifted. Lawmakers also introduced a bill that offers housing protections for essential workers and would give renters affected financially by the pandemic shutdown more time to pay rent.
The council introduced other broader pieces of novel coronavirus relief legislation like blocking marshalls and sheriffs from collecting debts from renters until next April and a bill requiring that the city house every homeless New Yorker in a private room until the end of the pandemic.