Insider NJ

On May Day, Coalitions Of Advocates Call On Governor Murphy To Implement Executive Order Enforcing Pandemic Protections For Essential Workers To Ensure A #Recovery4All

Insider NJ — May 1, 2020

TRENTON — The New Jersey Time to Care and the Fair Work Week Coalitions join together on International Workers' Day to call on Governor Murphy to implement a proposed Executive Order enforcing pandemic protections for essential workers. The proposal includes a "worker rights protection" hotline where workers can access information regarding their rights and report violations.

The letter to Governor Murphy thanked him for his steady leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic and for his championing of workers' protections, having signed into law statewide Earned Sick Leave, Wage and Hour law enhancements, as well taking many other actions to provide New Jerseyans with relief. But the coalitions also noted that while many employers are doing all they can to protect workers, "without clear mandates and enforcement procedures, some employers (and whole industries) will continue to skirt workers protections and fail to implement adequate health and safety measures." The letter called for strong health and safety standards and oversight in New Jersey workplaces now and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis as the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has no mandatory standards on COVID-19 and has only issued recommended guidelines.

"Today could be renamed Essential Workers' Day, as workers at some of the biggest corporations across the country are striking and demanding adequate paid sick leave and safer workplaces,' said Yarrow Willman-Cole, New Jersey Citizen Action Workplace Justice Program Director and co-convener of the New Jersey Time to Care Coalition. "Thanks to Governor Murphy's leadership, New Jersey workers do have strong workplace protections and a basic standard of paid sick days. But without collaborative community based enforcement of both established and newer protections, many essential workers will be forced to put themselves at risk of infection and death during this pandemic. We can only beat COVID-19 in New Jersey by protecting everyone, including our most vulnerable essential workers."

"Too many workers across the state are continuing to get sick with COVID-19, and many of these 'hot-spot' outbreaks can be prevented if workers had the right to report safety concerns they've identified early on and without fear of retaliation. The Executive Order addresses this issue head on," said Adil Ahmed, Director of Worker Organizing and Policy with worker and immigrant rights organization Make the Road New Jersey.

"As workers, our health is essential, not just our production! And if our health is in jeopardy, we need the right to refuse unsafe work without the fear of retaliation," said Lou Kimmel, Executive Director of the worker center New Labor. "This Executive Order would make sure that essential worker health and rights are protected. It would allow for groups like us, that have strong relationships with essential workers, the possibility of working to assure compliance with pandemic rights and protections."

The proposed Executive Order calls for a partnership between government agencies and community stakeholders who have strong relationships with essential workers and can report and help prevent violations and curb future outbreaks. The proposal would also:

"I work at a factory where there has been a large outbreak of coronavirus," said Adriana Alaverez, factory worker and member of Make the Road New Jersey. "During the first few weeks of the pandemic, the company did not give us gloves or masks, so many of us bought or made masks on our own. The company did not close the facility for disinfection early enough, so the outbreak was very bad and affected a lot of workers. My coworkers are afraid to speak up. The state must have a hotline that allows workers to report unsafe working conditions. Our employers should be required to share information on how many workers have coronaviruses and to shut down whenever there is an outbreak of the virus among the workers. Otherwise, they are allowing the pandemic to continue and workers like us will suffer more."

"You can see the fear and uncertainty in people's faces. It's very evident during this pandemic," said Natalia Carvajal, Wind of the Spirit Leader and factory worker. "What makes matters worse is that many of us don't even have enough paid sick days to socially distance or quarantine. We are forced to expose ourselves knowing that there's a high risk of contraction. There is no other choice. We have to pay the rent after this is over and we still have to put food on the table for our families. Low- wage workers need better worker protections and access to more paid time off if we are going to flatten the curve."

"We ask Governor Murphy to protect essential workers which includes many domestic workers," said Maria Hercules, member of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. "We are suffering the consequences of this pandemic because our rights are frequently being violated. We ask the Governor to support the well-being of essential workers and their families by establishing this Executive Order to ensure enforcement of our rights."

"New Jersey is a diverse place sustained by essential workers," said Tony Gonzalez, member leader with the Laundry Workers Center. "This pandemic is a common responsibility As a community, we need to make sure we eradicate the virus taking the right steps; putting people before profit. We are asking Governor Murphy to implement our proposed Executive Order to protect workers. We need employers to implement adequate protocols to eliminate hazards and provide us with enough paid sick days. Employers should have to pay fines when violating these protections and workers need to be empowered to help enforce those laws and protections,"

"It is our moral duty to protect workers and safe guard working conditions because God cares about the treatment of workers," said Sara Lilja of Lutheran Advocacy NJ. "The Bible teaches us that employers should not exploit the working poor, whether they are citizens or undocumented immigrant workers, and workers should be paid a fair wages in a timely manner. If workers are unfairly treated in pay or in working conditions, employers are guilty of a great sin."

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