Workers, Community Groups, Advocacy Organizations, and Labor Unions Hail Gov. Murphy’s Workplace Protection Executive Order as
“Key First Step” to Ensure Worker Safety During the Pandemic
Executive Order Mandates Workplace Protections and Creates New Enforcement Process at NJDOL to Protect all NJ Workers During COVID-19
Coalition Will Continue to Push for Right to Refuse Unsafe Work through Legislation
October 28, 2020 – Trenton, NJ: After a six month campaign to urge Governor Murphy to use his emergency powers to take executive action to protect NJ workers during the pandemic, the Protect NJ Workers Coalition celebrates Governor Murphy’s signing of a Worker Protection Executive Order. The Coalition is led by BIPOC activists and essential workers, with members from a wide-range of community groups, advocacy and labor organizations.
The new Worker Protection Executive Order (EO), which goes into effect November 5th at 6am, will mandate key protections for workers and require that employers implement social distancing protocols, provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), create a worker notification program if an employee tests positive for COVID, implement mandatory times for handwashing, sanitizing and cleaning of workplaces and follow current state and federal laws to provide paid sick time off when necessary. The new EO will apply to all New Jersey workers in the public and private sectors. The Department of Labor will host a new webpage with information regarding the EO and where workers can file complaints for violations of workplace health and safety. The NJ Department of Labor and the NJ Department of Health will be charged with investigating complaints and holding employers accountable to the requirements of the EO.
The EO also includes a worker health and safety training program that the Protect NJ Workers Coalition advocated and fought for. It will be coordinated and carried out by Rutgers University and worker leaders from the Coalition. The training program provides workers with critical information to help them identify COVID-19 related workplace health and safety hazards and gives them the tools to speak up when violations are not resolved by their employers.
The Coalition led a six month fight for worker safety protections, including a large scale Labor Day march and several worker-led actions across New Jersey this summer, calling attention to the lack of enforcement of health and safety standards. In addition, news outlets exposed dangerous conditions facing temp agency workers being transported in crammed vans and analyzed public data to show that thousands of worker-initiated complaints against New Jersey employers have not been investigated or remedied. Earlier this year, nearly 50 public health officials signed a letter calling on Governor Murphy to take executive action to expand workplace safety standards.
“As an essential worker who became sick during the pandemic and lost my job, I know first hand the importance of strong worker protections. My employer didn’t give me any protective equipment and did not abide by social distancing protocols. Enforceable standards save lives. Thank you Governor Murphy, Commissioner Asaro-Angelo and Commissioner Persichilli for your leadership. We are grateful to the members of the Protect NJ Workers Coalition and to frontline workers across New Jersey for fighting for respect, dignity and safety for all and we will continue to fight until we win the right to refuse unsafe work for all workers,” Tania Gonzlaez, member of Make the Road New Jersey.
“We are thankful that Governor Murphy is expanding protections for more workers in New Jersey through this Executive Order, as our health as workers is a public health issue,” said Reynalda Cruz , hotel worker and member of New Labor. “But for even more protection, we have to keep fighting until we have the right to refuse unsafe work without retaliation guaranteed and codified.”
“As an essential worker I was exposed during the pandemic, risking my life and then fired for demanding more protection. Today, we uphold health and safety enforceable standards for all workers in NJ. We are organizing to show other workers that we need to stand up without fear. This is a good beginning and we understand there much more to fight”, said Baldemar Manzano, with the Laundry Workers Center.
“We applaud Governor Murphy for issuing today’s Executive Order to expand protections to all New Jersey workers — this is a substantial first step toward ensuring safeguards on the job during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Bruce Miller, United for Respect Leader. “We’re optimistic about the launch of a worker health and safety training program that’s rightfully anchored by worker leaders of the Protect NJ Workers Coalition. However, we must continue to fight employer retaliation by granting right of refusal protections for essential workers and building a co-enforcement structure where workers have the authority to formally hold non-compliant employers accountable.”
“We appreciate that this Executive Order expands protections to all workers during this national public health crisis and that workers now have more tools and resources available to them as they fight for safe and healthy working conditions for themselves and their communities.” said Meghan Hurley, Policy and Advocacy Organizer for CATA – The Farmworker Support Committee. “We will continue to work together as a coalition to make sure that workers are able to report and address violations and that employers are held accountable.”
“Workers fought for months to make their voices heard about the lack of enforceable workplace protections during the pandemic. And the blatant failure of the federal government meant that Governor Murphy had to take action”, said Yarrow Willman-Cole with New Jersey Citizen Action and the NJ Time to Care Coalition. “Today we are happy to stand with Governor Murphy to protect workers and we thank him for responding to the call to action by signing this Executive Order. This crisis requires strong action with real teeth to protect the most vulnerable workers and to hold accountable the most unscrupulous employers. We will continue to push for stronger enforcement and demand that our legislators give workers a real ability to speak up with the Right to Refuse Unsafe Work legislation, an Emergency Paid Sick Days bill and other needed solutions.”
‘WEC is proud to stand with our allies in the Protecting NJ Workers Coalition and thank Governor Murphy for signing this Executive Order. This pandemic is far from over and we will continue to advocate for strong COVID protections for workers so they aren’t put in the position to have to choose between feeding their family and risking their health,” said Debra Coyle McFadden, Executive Director, NJ Work Environment Council.
“We commend Governor Murphy for taking a strong first step to protect all New Jersey workers to keep them, their families and their communities safe and healthy,” said Kevin Brown, SEIU 32BJ Vice President and head of the union’s New Jersey division. “As we move into a new phase in our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, we will work with the Governor and both union and non-union employers in the state to make sure everyone complies with and is accountable for vital safety measures.”
“All workers deserve safe working conditions, especially now as we face a second wave of the pandemic,” said Vineeta Kapahi, Policy Analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP). “As workplaces are potential sites of COVID-19 transmission, state lawmakers must do everything possible to ensure workers and their families are safe, and that workers whose safety is put at risk at no fault of their own have access to recourse. Strong workplace protections are essential to the state’s overall health and economic recovery. NJPP applauds the leadership of workers and Governor Murphy for taking this critical step toward strengthening workplace safety, and we look forward to partnering with worker centers, labor unions, and state officials to ensure these safety standards are fully enforced.”
The Executive Order and establishment of a worker health and safety training program is a testament to the power of workers, worker representatives and worker advocates. Workers – especially low-wage and workers of color – contend with the most dire consequences of this pandemic, and they are demanding that our leaders take action to protect them. However, the effort is not complete. The EO is just the first step to ensure that workers are empowered to name when the conditions of their work are unsafe and made deadly by a virus that is currently resurging.
Specifically, workers need the right to refuse to work if workplace conditions put their health and safety at risk, either because the employer has not taken sufficient measures to reduce their employees’ exposure to communicable disease or other similarly serious hazards. Currently, if workers stop working because of such conditions, they lose pay or could be fired. The Right to Refuse bill (A4268) would protect workers’ jobs and incomes when they alert their employer to unsafe conditions and it establishes a 24-hotline to quickly resolve problems. The Right to Refuse bill would empower workers to exercise their fundamental right to work in a safe workplace.
The Protect NJ Workers Coalition will continue to fight for legislation to grant workers the “Right to Refuse”, and call upon the legislature to additional action on other measures in the Worker Pandemic Protection package of legislation, including Emergency Paid Sick Days, the Right to First Refusal, the expansion of Good Cause for Unemployment, and the Farmworker Epidemic Health and Safety Act.
Tomorrow (Thursday) at noon, the Coalition to Protect NJ Workers will host a zoom press conference to announce a worker training program: https://zoom.us/j/4757726786.