The State of Labor during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Testimony of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, before the New York City Council Committee on Civil Service & Labor
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
The New York City Central Labor Council (NYCCLC) is a non-profit labor membership organization devoted to supporting, advancing and advocating for the working people of New York City. As the nation's largest regional labor federation, the NYCCLC brings together 300 local unions representing 1.3 million workers from every trade, occupation, public and private sector of the New York economy.
New York City is in the midst of an unparalleled health and economic crisis, and working people remain on the frontlines of that crisis. Our healthcare workers and first responders are caring for those who are ill. Our retail and distribution center workers are making sure that food and other supplies are available. Transportation, sanitation, and construction workers have been on the job and keeping New York City running so that we all have access to the goods and services we rely on. Over the past 10 months, we’ve seen with stark clarity that the very workers we too often take for granted are the ones who are the most essential to all of our safety, health, and well being.
At the same time, workers in other critical industries are facing unbearable economic hardship. Business closures and other COVID-related impacts have caused an unprecedented increase in job loss and unemployment. That impact has been felt most acutely by women and by communities of color, who disproportionately work in some of the most heavily affected sectors. According to BLS data released earlier this month, employers cut 140,000 jobs nationally in December, with women accounting for all the job losses, losing 156,000 jobs while men gained 16,000. And a separate BLS survey showed that while Black and Latina women lost jobs in that month, White women actually made gains, meaning that it was women of color who carried the brunt of the losses.
Here in New York City, among those hardest hit have been workers in our hospitality industry and our arts and entertainment industry, two of the engines of New York City’s economy. Before the pandemic, New York’s hospitality industry provided as many as 400,000 jobs and contributed $46 billion in annual spending to New York City’s economy. As of November, employment in the New York hospitality industry was at just 59 percent of pre-pandemic levels. And arts and entertainment workers have been locked out of the economy since March of 2020, with theatres and other live entertainment venues not expected to reopen until fall of this year.
It is critical that we prioritize the protection of essential workers and the support of all workers through the pandemic. To that end, the labor movement is calling on all levels of government to respond with all of the resources at their disposal.
At the national level, our partners at the AFL-CIO are calling for Congress to enact a Workers First Agenda that will include actions to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control: guaranteeing access for all workers to free vaccines and rapid testing; issuing emergency COVID-19 standards from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Mine Safety and Health Administration (which President Biden called for this week); taking actions to ensure an adequate supply of personal protective equipment; and ensuring paid sick days, paid family leave and child care for all workers.
At the state level, among other COVID-related priorities, organized labor is calling for the enactment of the NY HERO Act, for improvements in the paid sick leave available to workers quarantining or isolating as a result of exposure, and for all essential workers who are at increased risk to be considered a priority for receiving vaccination once available. We also need to address specific issues related to unemployment insurance related to COVID, including eligibility for benefits for workers who need to voluntarily separate from employment due to underlying conditions that put them at a higher risk of serious illness or death.
And here in New York City, we need our elected officials to continue to use every tool at your disposal to support the economic security as well as the health and safety of NYC’s workforce. We need for you to continue to work with New York City’s unions, whose members’ lives and livelihoods are on the line, to create targeted policy solutions that ensure our economic recovery without putting our workers at risk. We need to identify ways to increase revenue, maintain critical public services, and invest in our City’s infrastructure to kickstart the rebuilding of our city’s economy over the coming months and years. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic has renewed the need for strong protections for workers against retaliation and exploitation, and the need for our local officials to prioritize those protections, fighting for all workers to have a voice on the job, fair treatment, and due process.
We have a long road ahead, and the decisions we make over the next few months will have an enormous impact on the future of our city, our workforce, and our communities. The CLC looks forward to working with our partners in city government to fight for our City’s economic recovery, and for the health and safety of all working people.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Committee today, and please do not hesitate to reach out to the NYC CLC any time we can be of assistance.