The New York City Council introduced an "Essential Workers' Bill of Rights" on Wednesday afternoon, which would require large employers to provide additional protections and hazard pay to those hourly workers helping the city continue to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill of rights is part of a sweeping package of legislation intended to help New Yorkers where the state and federal government have failed.
One bill would prohibit all evictions, debt collections, and property seizures until April 2021. Another would require the city to provide single-room shelters to all homeless New Yorkers who need it to maintain proper social distancing, and would effectively shut down many of the crowded shelters currently operated by the city.
A package of bills intended to help small businesses would prohibit commercial landlords from making threats against business tenants, suspend personal liability on commercial leases, and lift sidewalk café fees. The bill that would open 75 miles of city streets to pedestrians is also part of the package.
But of the broader COVID-19 package of legislation, the "Essential Workers' Bill of Rights" is perhaps the most substantive and likely to face resistance from Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The hazard pay bill would require employers with more than 100 "essential workers" to pay them a $30 bonus for shifts under four hours, $60 for shifts four to eight hours, and $75 for any shift longer than eight hours. City workers earning a taxpayer-funded check would be exempt. According to the bill, essential workers would be defined as those deemed essential under the state's March 18th executive order, excluding real estate workers.
A worker protection bill would prohibit "all hiring parties of essential workers" from firing them without just cause. Another bill would provide paid sick leave to all independent contractors, including workers left out of the state's expanded paid sick leave law. Gig workers—like those who make deliveries through apps—were excluded from the state law because they are not considered "employees," despite a recent decision from the New York State Court of Appeals that ruled that they should be classified as such for the purposes of obtaining unemployment benefits.
In a Zoom press conference, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is co-sponsoring several of the bills, explained that the legislation is designed to target "the larger businesses that are currently open right now...that are currently operating full steam ahead." The bill that would pay bonuses to essential workers, for instance, is intended to include gig workers.
"There are some businesses that we believe are not paying their workers appropriately," Johnson said. "They deserve more than our gratitude and respect. They deserve a bill of rights, they deserve protections, and they deserve better pay."
Johnson admitted there was only so much the Council could do. "We need some significant federal help," Johnson said, describing the need for another "multi-billion dollar" injection of assistance from Congress.
Kathryn Wylde, the president & CEO of the powerful business group the Partnership for New York City, predicted that large employers would take a dim view of the Council's legislation.
"This legislative agenda is rushed and ill-conceived. If enacted, it will do further damage to the city and its workers," Wylde wrote in an email. "It is deeply troubling that the Council would even propose legislation on such complex and serious matters without prior consultation and research. They evidently underestimate the long term threat the city and its residents, workers, and business owners face as a result of the pandemic."
Amazon, which owns Whole Foods, and is worth $1.1 trillion, has raised the pay of its hourly workers by $2 an hour in response to the pandemic. Amazon's stock price has risen more than $600/share in the past month, and the company is expected to increase sales by 20 percent this year.
A spokesperson for Amazon has not returned our request for comment.
Reps from UPS and for the food delivery behemoth Grubhub/Seamless both said their companies are still reviewing the council's proposals. JP Morgan Chase, the city's largest private employer, declined to comment on the legislation.
A spokesperson for Lyft said, "While we share many of City Council's goals, there are numerous aspects of these proposals to be evaluated and worked out. We look forward to engaging with all stakeholders on this and other issues."
Representatives from Uber, FedEx, Fresh Direct, Instacart, and Door Dash, have not yet responded to our request for comment.
"New York City must take action to protect essential workers and ensure their rights are respected," Deborah Axt, the co-executive director Make the Road New York, said in a statement.
During a separate press conference on Monday morning, de Blasio—who's been warning of an austerity budget—said he hadn't read the bills and declined to comment on them, but said that he and the Council were "kindred" on many of the issues they raise.
"The values are very much in common between both sides of City Hall. We're very, very concerned to protect working people in general and particularly during this crisis," de Blasio said. "Always the question in my mind will be, you know, what can we do versus what do we need help from outside to do? And that of course means Washington."
De Blasio referred to Senator Chuck Schumer's proposal that the next stimulus package include a sweeping essential workers fund, paying up to $25,000 to everyone making less than $200,000 a year. Public and private sector essential workers would be eligible for the bonus.
"I think a lot of our future is going to be determined by the fourth stimulus," de Blasio said.
You can read a summary of all the bills being introduced in the council today here; the bills must be debated in committee before they are voted on.