NYCOSH: New Report Estimates 250,000 NYS Workers Got COVID-19 on the Job; Only 21,000 Applied for Workers’ Compensation

For Immediate Release: April 27, 2021
Contact: Charlene Obernauer | charlene@nycosh.org | 631-524-3922

NYCOSH Hosts Press Conference to Call for Policy Changes

New York - NYCOSH hosts press conference with labor unions and private attorney Robert E. Grey, report author, to call for policy changes to the workers’ compensation system. The report estimated that 250,000 workers got COVID-19 on the job, but only 21,000 applied for workers’ compensation. The report also notes that of the 21,000 who applied, only 1,000 have received a hearing. The report release was scheduled to coincide with Workers’ Memorial week in honor of workers who have died on the job.

Advocates called for policy changes, including 1) a presumption bill in favor of essential workers with COVID-19 (S. 1241); 2) a NYS investment on outreach on workers’ compensation and COVID-19; 3) NYS Workers’ Compensation Board hearings in every COVID-19 case; 4) expanded language access (S 1721); and 5) protection against retaliation.

“These policy changes are essential to ensuring that workers can access workers’ compensation and that more outreach is done to ensure that the 250,000 who got symptomatic COVID-19 know about how to apply to workers’ compensation, including undocumented and immigrant workers. Further, ever worker who has applied for workers’ compensation in New York State deserves a hearing,” said Charlene Obernauer, Executive Director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH).

Robert E. Grey, report author and managing partner at Grey & Grey LLP said, “The data shows that there is an enormous gap between the number of people who got sick at work and the number who filed for workers’ compensation. This points to the fact that there are serious flaws in the system that must be addressed for it to be even arguably a meaningful remedy for workplace injuries and illnesses.

“We simply cannot have tens of thousands of workers get sick on the job and yet lack medical benefits and protection against lost wages,” he continued. “Much more must be done to make sure that workers are aware that the system exists and what benefits it provides. It is also critically important that the state agency take down the language, education and technical obstacles that prevent workers from obtaining benefits, and that it act much more proactively to do what it was designed to do: deliver compensation to working people who get hurt or sick because of their job.”

“Too many in New York’s workforce contracted COVID on the job due to lack of PPE and safety precautions,” said State Senator Jessica Ramos. “These workers should be able to seek and obtain relief, in their language, from the Workers’ Compensation Board like any other occupational injury. Once it’s law, we will also be able to see where workplace improvements can be made on our way to a just recovery.”

"New York's workers compensation system is stacked against workers and must be fixed," said NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, RN. "We heard from so many of our members who were exposed and fell ill from COVID at work about the barriers that employers, private insurers, and other gatekeepers put up when they tried to apply for workers comp. Nurses and frontline healthcare workers put themselves at great risk to save lives during the pandemic, and we deserve a fair system that fairly compensates us for our sacrifice."

“While caring for COVID patients as a critical care nurse at Montefiore in the Bronx, I became the patient and almost died,” said Delita Glori-Feri, RN. “I did all the things I was supposed to do to claim workers’ comp, but a year later, I have still not seen a penny. I am essential, but I am NOT expendable. I almost died caring for my community. Some of my coworkers did not make it out alive. We deserve to be treated fairly and we are demanding justice.”

"Injured workers deserve a system that works for them. This report highlights the need for systemic change," said William Crossett Co-Chair New Your Workers Compensation Alliance.

The report can be downloaded at: https://greyandgrey.com/system-failure-release/

To access a copy of the recording from the press conference, please e-mail lara@nycosh.org.

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