Labor Day spurs new state laws as federal unemployment aid ends

Governor Kathy Hochul

— Photo from the New York State Governor’s Office
Governor Kathy Hochul, center, marches in Buffalo’s Labor Day parade on Monday. She also signed four pieces of labor-related bills into law on Monday.

ALBANY COUNTY — Monday — a holiday to celebrate labor — was also the day that federal pandemic unemployment benefits ended, which left roughly a tenth of the United States population with markedly less household income.
The most recent data on unemployment from the New York State Department of Labor, from July, shows the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area with an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent, down dramatically from a year ago, at 10.4 percent.

The federal Department of Labor, in its Sept. 2 report, states that 9.2 million Americans were getting benefits from either the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program or from the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.

The Household Pulse Survey from the United States Census Bureau shows the average household receiving unemployment benefits has 3.8 people, meaning around 35 million Americans are in households that have lost benefits. About half will now receive no benefits and the other half will see weekly benefits cut by $300 per week.

This is at the same time when the Delta variant is causing a surge in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Between Aug. 27 and Sept. 5, Albany County suffered nine deaths from the virus.

On Labor Day, Governor Kathy Hochul marched in a parade in Buffalo and signed four pieces of legislation meant to boost workplace safety and to increase workers’ pay.

She also announced designation of COVID-19 as an airborne infectious disease under the state’s HERO Act, requiring employers to put workplace safety plans in place.

The day before Labor Day, on Sept. 5, Hochul promoted a number of free resources for job seekers.

At the Labor Day event, Hochul spoke of her grandfather “who started life in this country after leaving great poverty in Ireland” and, with his brothers, ended up “living the American dream because they all became union members, steelworkers, longshoreman, pipe fitters, iron workers.”

Hochul also quoted Samuel Gompers, a cigar maker who founded the American Federation of Labor.

“He said the struggle with labor is to free man. And I’m going to add ‘and women,’ free men and women from unfair, unjust, and unnecessarily cruel environments, and bring forward a day of deliverance from absurd economic burdens and cruel burdens as well,” said Hochul, asking, “Doesn’t that resonate today, too?”

Four new laws

This is the legislation Hochul signed on Labor Day:

— A measure to create a pilot program, placing speed cameras in work zones, which will establish the efficacy of using automatic speed monitoring systems for enforcement, the law says;

— A provision requiring a contractor on construction projects to be jointly liable for wages owed to employees of their subcontractors and also provides for wage theft prevention and enforcement, the law says;

— An amendment to ensure that building-service employees employed at certain properties held in the cooperative or condominium form of ownership and which receive a tax abatement are paid the prevailing wage, the law says; and

—  An extension to the cap on benefits an employee participating in the Department of Labor’s Shared Work program can receive to the federal maximum, the law says.


Free resources for job seekers

On Sunday, Hochul promoted free state resources to help connect New Yorkers with vacant jobs as they transition back to the workforce or explore new career paths, including these free programs: JobZone, résumé assistance, and interview insight.

Job seekers can also learn about virtual career fairs, workshops, and classes by visiting the labor department’s Career Calendar. New Yorkers who are out of work and looking to upskill or explore other career paths can expand their skills through the State's online learning platform in partnership with Coursera, and use the State University of New York’s SUNY For All free Online Training Center.

The labor department has bolstered its Shared Work Program, which enables employers to avoid layoffs by allowing workers to receive partial unemployment insurance benefits while working reduced hours. The department hosts a series of webinars for businesses using part-time work and Shared Work as recovery tools. The webinars are marketed through chambers of commerce, business groups, social media, and directly to businesses.

Unemployment insurance benefits are now based on the number of hours actually worked over the course of a week, instead of the number of days worked. Under this new system, unemployed New Yorkers can get back to work in a part-time capacity without the risk of losing their unemployment-insurance benefits.

New Yorkers can work up to seven days per week without losing full unemployment benefits for that week if they work 30 hours or fewer and earn $504 or less in gross pay, excluding earnings from self-employment.

The labor department has launched a webpage with information and resources for job seekers and businesses about part-time work. The page connects job seekers to a job board with aboput 20,000 part-time jobs available  across the state. Businesses can list their openings and job seekers can browse part-time jobs by location, company and job title, and search by keyword.



The New York Health and Essential Rights Act, known as the NY HERO Act, was signed into law on May 5, 2021. The law mandated extensive new workplace health and safety protections in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which were meant to protect employees against exposure and disease during a future airborne infectious disease outbreak.

Hochul, on Monday, Sept. 6, said that the state’s health commissioner, Howard Zucker, has designated COVID-19 a highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health under the HERO Act, requiring all employers to implement workplace safety plans.

Employers can adopt a model safety plan as crafted by the state’s labor department, or develop their own safety plan in compliance with HERO Act standards.

The HERO Act’s purpose is to ensure that businesses are prepared with protocols and resources to protect their employees and the public from the spread of airborne infectious diseases, like COVID’s Delta variant.

Although a press release on Monday from the governor’s office referenced the labor department’s website for details, on Tuesday evening, the website said, “DOL will be sharing more details about this law in the near future. Please check this website for updates.”

The plans adopted by employers must address a number of safety measures, the governor’s release said, including but not limited to: employee health screenings, masking and social distancing requirements, workplace hygiene stations, workplace cleaning protocol, quarantine protocol, and building airflow technology.

Employers are required to distribute their work safety plan to all employees and post it in a visible and prominent location within each worksite. 

Additionally, the HERO Act includes anti-retaliation protections for employees which prohibit discrimination or adverse actions taken against an employee for following the requirements of these plans, reporting concerns on the implementation of a plan, or refusing to work.

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