Council’s Plans To Help City Survive Coronavirus: Tenant Protections, Hazard Pay, Sick Leave For Contractors, Opening Streets

Mayor Bill de Blasio visited the Brooklyn Navy Yard where local companies are manufacturing thousands of protective hospital gowns to supply the city’s health care workers on Monday, April 6, 2020. Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

The New York City Council will introduce a package of bills tomorrow, April 22, to protect tenants, help small businesses survive, and find creative ways to address the public health crisis brought on by the coronavirus. The bills will be introduced at the Council’s first-ever remote Stated Hearing, and hearings will be held on each of the bills over the next week and a half.

“These bills provide relief where it is needed most right now, including protecting tenants from eviction. It’s essential that New Yorkers get the rent cancellation they need, but in the meantime, we need to give renters peace of mind that we won’t let them suffer irreparable harms. We’re also protecting small businesses and essential workers, who have been so hard hit. We must take these steps to help make sure that New York City remains the vibrant, diverse and exciting place it was before COVID ravaged our neighborhoods,” said Speaker Corey Johnson, announcing the package of bills.

NYC Essential Workers’ Bill of Rights

“Every night, New Yorkers are cheering wildly to thank the people who are stocking shelves in our grocery stores, delivering food and supplies, driving people to work and appointments, and caring for sick New Yorkers in our hospitals and nursing homes. With this legislation, we’ll go beyond cheering to make sure they have the pay, sick leave, dignity, and workplace protections they so deeply deserve,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “I’m thrilled to join Speaker Johnson, Majority Leader Cumbo, and Council Member Kallos to introduce NYC’s Essential Workers Bill of Rights, to ensure that these frontline workers are able to take paid sick leave, are protected against unfair firings, especially when they speak out about safety conditions, and are compensated for the risk and sacrifice they are undertaking for our collective benefit.” The following legislation will be introduced:

  • Premiums for essential workers (Sponsored by Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo and Speaker Johnson): The Council will consider legislation that would require large employers to pay premiums to certain essential non-salaried workers. The bill requires employers with more than 100 employees to pay hourly workers $30 for a shift under four hours, $60 for a shift of four to eight hours and $75 dollars for any shift over eight hours. The obligation would end when the state of emergency is lifted.
  • Just cause rights for essential workers (Sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, Speaker Johnson, and Council Member Brad Lander): The Council will consider legislation to prohibit all hiring parties of essential workers from firing those workers without just cause.  This bill will help protect essential workers and enable them to openly identify their concerns on the job or organize with other workers without fear of retaliation.
  • Paid sick leave for gig workers (Council Member Lander):  The Council will consider legislation to extend paid sick leave to independent contractors. Independent contractors were not included in the paid sick leave bill passed by the New York State Legislature for employees, even if their work is controlled or directed by the company that hires them.  This bill would close that loophole and help give these front-line gig workers the paid sick leave they need to keep themselves, their families, the New Yorkers they serve safe.
  • Resolution on misclassification (Council Member Lander): An estimated 850,000 low-paid independent contractors in New York State may be misclassified and should properly be classified as employees.  Some businesses intentionally misclassify these workers to avoid the burden of paying benefits to employees. As a result, many of these misclassified workers are working on the frontlines of this crisis without the safety net that should be available to them. The Council will consider a Resolution urging the State Legislature to put the burden of proof on employers to classify workers as independent contractors.

“Essential workers are putting their lives on the line every day to keep this City running and to keep New Yorkers safe. We must treat these workers with the respect and dignity they deserve. The bill that I am sponsoring with Speaker Johnson would ensure these critical workers are compensated in a way that reflects their critical contributions towards our City’s health and economy in the short and long-term,” said Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo.

Protecting New York City’s Renters

“Harassment and retaliation against COVID-19 impacted tenants pose an urgent risk, and tenants must be protected against unscrupulous landlords during these extremely difficult and uncertain times. This bill would make harassing a tenant based on their status as a COVID-19 impacted person, illegal. We need strong tenant protections in place to ensure everyone who has a home is able to keep it,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres.

  • Extending time for all NYC renters to repay rent, blocking evictions, and collection of debts (Sponsored by Speaker Johnson):   While Governor Cuomo’s statewide 90-day eviction moratorium provided renters with temporary relief, the City must ensure that its impacted tenants are protected from evictions in the long-term as they get back on their feet and recover from the harmful impacts of this crisis. The Council will consider legislation that prevents marshals and the City’s sheriffs from the taking and restitution of property or the execution of money judgments.  This means that evictions and the collection of debt would be paused for all NYC renters, including residential and commercial tenants. It also means those renters would have additional time to repay their rent. This bar would apply to actions against all New Yorkers through the duration of this crisis. Further, for New Yorkers impacted by COVID-19, marshals and sheriffs would be barred from collecting debts and performing evictions until April 2021.
  • Protecting tenants from COVID-related harassment and discrimination (Sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres and Speaker Corey Johnson): We must ensure that bad-actor landlords cannot use this crisis as an excuse to harass vulnerable tenants out of their homes. The Council will consider legislation that would make harassing a tenant based on their status as person impacted by COVID-19, including whether they are an essential worker or because they were laid off, or because they’ve received a rental concession or forbearance. Violations would be punishable by a civil penalty of $2,000 to $10,000.

Protecting New York City’s Small Businesses

The following legislation will be introduced:

  • Commercial tenant harassment (Sponsored by Council Member Adrienne Adams and Speaker Johnson): With limited federal relief funds, many businesses affected by this crisis will be unable to pay their rent. We must protect the City’s small, independently owned, and immigrant-owned businesses from the threat of harassment, many of which were running on thin margins and struggling to pay rent even before this crisis.  The Council will consider legislation to make threatening any commercial tenant based on their status as a COVID-19 impacted business or person a form of harassment punishable by a civil penalty of $10,000 to $50,000.
  • Suspending personal liability on commercial leases (Sponsored by Council Member Rivera and Speaker Johnson): The Council will consider legislation to temporarily suspend personal liability provisions in leases and other rental agreements of COVID-19 impacted businesses while the state of emergency is in effect, ensuring that City business owners don’t face the loss of their businesses and personal financial ruin or bankruptcy.
  • Suspending sidewalk cafe fees (Sponsored by Council Member Andrew Cohen):   The Council will consider legislation to suspend annual sidewalk café fees.  Reducing this fixed cost for the City’s cash-strapped restaurants, bars and nightlife is one common-sense step the Council can take to reduce the severe financial burden that has fallen on these impacted businesses.

Prioritizing Public Health

“I am proud to sponsor a bill with Speaker Johnson that addresses the systemic issues in our shelter system that make it impossible for residents to observe social distancing,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “Those issues put all New Yorkers at risk, which is why we are addressing them is so important in this public health crisis. This crisis has shown in stark terms that we are all interconnected. It is inhumane and dangerous to allow New Yorkers to remain in unsafe shelter conditions.” The following legislation will be introduced:

  • Providing safe shelter (Sponsored by Council Member Stephen Levin and Speaker Johnson):  Sheltering at home isn’t possible if you don’t have a home. The crowded conditions of our shelter system do not allow residents to take necessary precautions or observe social distancing. This is a danger to all New Yorkers during this public health crisis. The Council will consider legislation that will require the City to provide each single adult homeless individual with a private room through the end of the pandemic and implement protocols to reduce risk of infection. In effect, this would require the City to temporarily close many shelters and move residents to hotels or other facilities with private rooms.
  • Mandating open City streets (Sponsored by Council Member Carlina Rivera and Speaker Johnson): The Council will consider legislation to open city streets to pedestrians and cyclists during the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic to allow New Yorkers more room for social distancing as essential workers commute and while enjoying the short- and long-term health benefits of being outdoors. The bill will require the city to create more street space for pedestrians and cyclists throughout the five boroughs, with a citywide target of 75 miles of open streets.
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