New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Upper East Side Patch Advocates, Pols Back Essential Workers' 'Bill Of Rights' by Matt Troutman

Advocates, Pols Back Essential Workers' 'Bill Of Rights'

A proposed "Essential Workers' Bill of Rights" will pick up where cheers leave off for workers who toil to keep the city alive during the coronavirus, said elected officials and advocates.

Those nightly displays of support — applause, cheers and banging on pots and pans — were vividly described Park Slope City Councilman Brad Lander during an online news conference Monday.

People are right to cheer and thank doctors, nurses, hospital staff, grocery store workers, delivery drivers and garbage workers, Lander said.

But it's not some of those workers can't take paid days off if sick, get threatened for speaking up about health and safety conditions in their workplaces or don't make a wage that covers the cost of living in New York City, he said.

"Workers who have long been treated as disposable are now being cheered as essential, but that cheering, that calling 'essential,' those flyovers of the Thunderbirds are not enough," he said. "We owe the workers who are risking their own health and the health of their families long-lasting protections, better pay, paid leave, job security, workplace protections."

Lander alongside Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo and Councilman Ben Kallos co-sponsored a four-bill package which aims to provide protections for essential workers. This so-called "Essential Workers' Bill of Rights" will be the subject of Council hearings starting Wednesday.

The bills call for premiums of up to $75 a shift for essential workers for large employers, prohibiting firing without just cause, paid sick leave for gig workers and to reclassify certain types of independent contractors as employees.

And while the elected officials organized the call, it was the testimony of essential workers themselves that drove the call.

Edwin Aviles, a TWU Bikeshare Union leader, described how he and his Citibike coworkers put their health at risk every day amid the outbreak yet their pay doesn't cover the rising cost of milk, eggs and toilet paper.

Maria Hernandez with the NY Nail Salon Workers Association recounted in Spanish how she couldn't get sick days because her employer told her she was an independent contractor. Eighty percent of nail salon workers don't get the paid sick days they're entitled to, she said.

America's deaths from coronavirus have, in the matter of months, surpassed those from a decade of conflict in Vietnam, Cumbo said. Workers like Aviles, Hernandez and others never thought they would be risking their lives just to do their jobs, she said.

"They are really soldiers on the frontline of some form of bio-germ warfare, and they didn't sign up for that," she said.

More information can be found here.

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