This week’s topic addressed State Action on Covid-19 Worker Protections. As the federal government continues to shirk its responsibility to protect workers, advocates across the country have turned their attention to states and local municipalities to demand action. Many states, like NJ, currently only have executive orders regarding COVID-19 which are very difficult to enforce and provide little to no worker protection.

We welcomed Debbie Berkowitz, Worker Health & Safety Program Director, National Employment Law Project who has deep legal and policy expertise, and works on and promotes policies that improve workers’ lives. “In this crisis to protect the public you have to protect the workers. Worker health is public heath.”  Thus far, OSHA has refused to issue any emergency standards leaving workers at risk. To date, NJ has received 400 complaints from workers regarding social distancing, masking, access to soap, and worker retaliation.  In response to these complaints, OSHA has only sent a letter to employers asking them to follow the guidance with no on site inspections, leaving workers in crisis.

Jason Yarashes, Lead Attorney and Program Coordinator, Virginia Justice Project for Farm and Immigrant Workers works to address the systems which keep people impoverished. Through early intervention and community efforts, Virginia has been able to adopt standards in regard to COVID which carry civil penalties and fees.  This effort was worker lead and worker driven. Despite policy makers attempts to “divide and conquer” advocates were able to galvanize the community and have an emergency standard drafted which went into effect last week. The standard addresses sick leave policies, enforceability of PPE, and worker protections.

Lou Kimmel, Executive Director, New Labor is working with WEC and other colleagues and partners in the NJ Work and Safety coalition on a worker health and safety council and training safety liaisons in NJ.  The goal is to protect against worker retaliation and ensure worker protections. Despite meeting with Governor Murphy’s policy team and the DOL, no commitment has been made to secure the executive action necessary to protect workers.

The panelists all spoke to the need for an infectious disease state standard. Given the lack of strong federal regulations it is up to states, counties and cities to protect workers. We need greater protections for workers against retaliation and their right to refuse unsafe work that can be enforced and carry penalties. To protect the public, you have to protect the workers. There were more than 79 participants on this webinar.

Important references:

NELP Tool Kit:

Which States and Cities have Adopted Comprehensive COVID-19 Worker Protections:

LA County Board of Supervisors approved a proposal to facilitate worker led health councils to monitor business compliance with public health orders mitigating the spread of COVID-19 at work:

Legal Aid Justice Center Action (Virginia) alert to the public:

Op-ed Debbie mentioned: With OSHA as an Employer Advice Columnist, States and Cities Should Protect Workers from COVID-19:


NELP tool kit:

NJ EO draft:


EO actions:

Pro publica article:

NPR article: