New York State Assembly, Albany, New York 12248
2002 Legislative Update
from the NY State Assembly
Labor Committee
rule Sheldon Silver, Speaker square Susan John, Chair square March 2003

Catherine Nolan I am pleased to update you on the 2002 activities of the Assembly Labor Committee. During the 2002 legislative session, the Labor Committee worked on a wide variety of issues, from whistleblower protection to raising the minimum wage and the expansion of apparel industry laws, among many others outlined in the following pages.

As you may know, the Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, recently appointed me to a new State Assembly Chairmanship — the Committee on Banks. Although, as Speaker Silver has said, "my heart will remain in labor," I welcome this new leadership challenge to help the working men and women of our state.

In appointing me to my new position, the Speaker also designated a dedicated new chair for this Committee — Susan John from Rochester. Rest assured that Susan will pick up right where I left off by continuing to fight for the rights of our state’s working families. I look forward to working with Susan on the many issues that are important to us.

It has been an honor to work with all of you who care about labor issues in our state. Together we have accomplished many positive things for working people. Please feel free to keep in touch.

Catherine Nolan

Susan John I am honored that Speaker Sheldon Silver appointed me to chair the Assembly Committee on Labor.

During my tenure as a state legislator I have worked tirelessly to protect the rights of working men and women. I have supported several initiatives to improve workplace safety and have been a consistent supporter of increasing the minimum wage. I also joined Assemblywoman Nolan in sponsoring a new law (Chapter 601 of 2002) to prohibit employers from using state funds to discourage workers from joining a union or hiring staff, lawyers or contractors to do so.

As Chair of the Assembly’s Labor Committee, I look forward to continuing my daily work with members of the labor community. Along with you, I will continue fighting to protect the interests of the hard working families of New York State, and to work with employers to address needs critical to our community. The location of the Labor Committee office will remain the same — in LOB Room 522. If your travels take you to Albany, stop by to say hello.

Susan John


Nurses’ Whistleblower Legislation
Signed Into Law


Testimony from health care workers was key to the passage of the Health Care Whistleblower Protection Act. Pictured (l to r): Assemblyman Paul Tonko, an unidentified health care professional, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assemblywoman Joan Millman.

Legislation that will protect health care workers who make public instances of wrongdoing by health care facilities has been signed into law. The bill, A.9454, sponsored by Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, had passed the Assembly numerous times before in similar forms and was even vetoed once.

The bill was the result of public hearings that the Assembly’s Labor Committee held several years ago. During the public hearings, the Committee heard numerous stories from dedicated health care professionals who lost their jobs when they reported conditions that were potentially dangerous to patients. The new law will provide dramatic benefits and protections for New York’s health care workers and consumers.

The new law will prevent discrimination against a health care worker who discloses information about the practices or policies of a hospital, clinic or nursing home that could threaten public health or patient safety. It would give workers who have been retaliated against the opportunity to go to court to seek reinstatement and restitution. The law also calls for a fine of up to $10,000 into a special fund for improving the quality of health care.

New Yorkers rely on their health care professionals to be qualified and conscientious. These workers play a critical role in ensuring quality health care and must be afforded protections. This measure is critical to ensuring the public’s confidence in our health care system. It will go a long way in reducing medical errors and improving patient care.


Paid Family Medical Leave


The "Paid Family Leave" speak out in Patchogue was invaluable to the Assembly Labor Committee’s work in paid family leave issues. Pictured above are Ed Donnelly of the NYS AFL-CIO, Donna Doland and Debbie King of the Paid Family Leave Coalition, Assemblywoman Patricia Eddington, Jack Caffey of the Long Island Central Labor Council and Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act was signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. It allows employees in a workplace of over 50 employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for specified medical problems, including the birth or adoption of a child, or to take care of a sick spouse, child or parent. The federal law permits states to improve the coverage offered. The Assembly Labor Committee is working on legislation to do just that.

Legislation, A.7405 of 2002, introduced by Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, would amend New York State’s Temporary Disability Insurance Law (TDI) to allow workers to receive TDI benefits to care for newborn or newly adopted children; care for children, parents or spouses with serious health conditions; recover from one’s own serious health condition; or to take bereavement leave or leave to attend meetings with a child’s teacher or school.

Last year, the United States Department of Labor released the results of the latest study of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). According to the New York State AFL-CIO and the United States Department of Labor, since the FMLA was enacted in 1993, more than 35 million eligible employees have taken unpaid leave to care for a new baby or sick family member. While finding employees generally are pleased with the federal law and most employers have no trouble implementing it, the study found 78% of the respondents said their inability to afford unpaid leave was the main reason they did not take time off. In fact, 88% of those who needed leave but did not take it said they would have taken time off if they had received some compensation during their leave.

The Assembly Labor Committee has participated in several "Paid Family and Medical Leave" speak outs organized by the New York State AFL-CIO around the state. We heard from numerous people who are struggling to balance work and caring for a sick child or parent. Many did not know that unpaid leave was available to them. Allowing eligible individuals to receive Temporary Disability Insurance benefits would enable many more people to take leave when they need it. Employees and employers contribute to the mandatory state disability program, and thus share the burden of this benefit. During the 2002 session, this bill was reported from the Labor Committee to the Ways & Means Committee. The Assembly’s Labor Committee is hopeful that we can make legislative progress on this important issue.


Apparel Workers’ Protection Act
Passes Assembly

A top priority of the Assembly’s Labor Committee continues to be the eradication of sweatshops. Every legislative session, the committee votes on numerous proposals to crack down on sweatshops. One such proposal, the "Apparel Workers’ Protection Act", is modeled after federal procedure.

The bill, A.9311, authorizes the Commissioner of Labor to publish on the Internet a listing of those persons or entities investigated by the Department or Special Task Force on the Apparel Industry and found not to be in compliance with the law. Any retailer, manufacturer or contractor shall be provided with reference to this web listing.

In addition, the bill also amends the labor law to empower inspectors from the Special Task Force to evacuate and close any premises deemed to be in serious violation of the applicable fire code.

Publishing information relating to sweatshops on the World Wide Web is a practice utilized by the United States Department of Labor. It is current practice for retailers, manufacturers and contractors to contact the Department of Labor to confirm the registration status of manufacturers and contractors they are considering for contract. This bill would require that upon such a confirmation request, the Department would also provide a reference to the web site so that the inquiring entity would be able to check on the violation history.

Although this important anti-sweatshop measure passed the Assembly, the Senate did not act on it.


The Assembly Labor Committee recently visited the Jamaica One Stop Career Center. Among those pictured above are Jimmy Van Bramer of the Queens Library, Santiago Vargas of the NYS Department of Labor, Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, Joseph McDermott of the Consortium for Worker Education and Assemblyman William Scarborough, Chairman of the Assembly’s Vocational Skills Commission.


Assembly Approves Legislation To
Increase The Minimum Wage

Anyone in our state who wants to work hard can get a job, but not everyone can make a living. In our state there are over 200,000 workers who earn the minimum wage — $5.15 an hour. Another 600,000 make between $5.15 and $6.75 an hour.

In the 1960s and 1970s the earnings of a full-time minimum wage worker were enough to lift a family of three above the poverty line. Can anyone really say that about today’s minimum wage worker?

Despite sizable growth in the productivity of our nation’s economy over the last thirty years, the purchasing power of the federal minimum wage has fallen by one third.

The Assembly majority believes that a minimum wage boost would help address this erosion in living standards. Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, together with Speaker Sheldon Silver and fifty members of the Assembly Majority, introduced and passed legislation, not once, but three times, during the 2002 legislative session to raise our state’s minimum wage to $6.75 per hour.

The first bill, A.5132, increases the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.75 per hour and links future wage increases to the cost of living. The second bill, A.5132-B is identical to the first except that future increases are linked to the statewide average weekly wage. The third legislative proposal, A.11805, the Empire State Wage Act of 2002, would also raise the state’s minimum wage to $6.75 per hour and would require a report by the Commissioner of Labor to the Governor and the legislature on various issues related to the minimum wage. All three of these measures passed the Assembly but were not acted upon by the Senate.

The minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation, so in terms of buying power, it is at its lowest level in many years. We were disappointed that the Senate did not act to improve the standard of living for the many households in our state whose breadwinners rely on minimum wage jobs.

Increasing the minimum wage this small amount is an investment in the capital of the citizens of our state, the capital of the families of our state, and an investment in the future of New York.


American Flag Bill Signed Into Law

Legislation to protect employees from firing or discrimination for displaying the American Flag was signed into law.

The bill, A.9707, prevents discrimination against employees for displaying the American flag. Under the provisions of the bill, no employer, public or private, shall discharge or discriminate against any employee in compensation, working conditions or privileges of employment for displaying an American flag on an employee’s person or work station. Such a display must not substantially interfere with the employee’s job duties. If, after an investigation, the Commissioner of Labor finds that an employer has violated any of these provisions, the Commissioner may assess the employer a civil penalty.

This new law is designed to allow employees to display their patriotism without retaliation from their employer. This law is modeled after New Jersey legislation, which originated when employees wanted to wear flag pins on their clothes at work and on their uniforms and were not allowed to by their employers. Prior to the enactment of this statute, there was no law in New York State to prohibit retaliatory action by employers towards employees who wish to display the American flag. This new law will ensure that our flag can be displayed without issue.

The Commissioner of the Department of Labor Linda Angello (third from left) addressed the Assembly Labor Committee. Assemblymembers Peter Abbate, William Boyland, Catherine Nolan, Ron Canestrari and Keith Wright are pictured.


The Assembly’s Labor Committee addressed the NYS AFL-CIO to talk about issues of importance. Geraldine Reilly, the Counsel to the Assembly’s Labor Committee looks on.



2002 Legislative Highlights


Workers’ Compensation Board Chairman Robert Snashall addressed the committee regarding the board’s actions after the September 11th disaster. Assemblymembers Catherine Nolan and Ron Canestrari look on.

In addition to the legislation highlighted throughout this newsletter, the Assembly’s Labor Committee also worked on the following bills:

A.189-A (Tokasz) - directs the Department of Labor to prescribe the form of a notice informing potential contractors in public work contracts of their responsibilities relating to hours, wages and supplements. (passed Assembly)

A.10042 (Eddington) - establishes the "Work Reduction Notice Act" which requires employers to give notice to employees when such employer conducts a work reduction. (passed Assembly)

A.11624 (Nolan) - enacts the New York State Extended Unemployment Benefits Act of 2002 for any weeks of unemployment beginning on or after June 2,2002 and ending on or before March 29, 2003. (passed Assembly)

A.169 (Christensen) - increases the civil penalty for failing to pay wages or differential in rate of pay because of gender. (signed into law, Chapter 427)

A.2329 (Ortiz) - authorized the Commissioner of Labor to prepare and distribute notice of the rights of employees to each and every apparel and garment manufacturer or contractor known to the Department of Labor. Such notice shall be posted in the workplace of each manufacturer in English, Spanish, Chinese and Korean. (signed into law, Chapter 471)

A.3306 (Hooper) - permits the Workers’ Compensation Board chair and members to teach at institutions of higher education if to do so would not conflict with their duties as board members. (passed Assembly)

A.3668 (Perry) - requires employers to provide to employees injured on the job all information necessary to file a workers’ compensation claim. (passed Assembly)

A.7200 (Destito) - provides that an employee shall have the right to express breast milk at work. (passed Assembly)

A.8637 (Tokasz) - requires state agencies to provide labor organizations with certified payroll records of the contractors hired to perform public work by such an agency. (passed Assembly)

A.10632-C (Tocci) - relates to the presumption of certain diseases, such as blood-borne diseases including, but not limited to hepatitis C, contracted by state or local correction officers during the course of their employment. (signed into law, Chapter 239)

A.11784-A (Nolan) - prohibits the use of state funds and facilities to assist, promote or deter union organizing. (signed into law, Chapter 601)

Workers’ Compensation Help Available

If you need assistance with a workers’ compensation problem, there is an office where injured workers or small business owners can call to ask for assistance in processing their workers’ compensation claims or appeals.

Injured workers who need help can call Ed Ruff, the Advocate for Injured Workers, toll free at 1-800-580-6665. Small business owners who need information or assistance can call David Austin, the Advocate for Small Business, toll free at 1-800-628-3331.


Assistance For Persons With Disabilities

The application process for unemployment insurance has been changed to a fully automated telephone calling system. This full-automated system does not accommodate persons with disabilities who are not able to complete the application process over the telephone because of their disability.

In response to this problem, A.9805, introduced by Assemblywoman Patricia Eddington, was passed by the Assembly. The bill amends the labor law to require the Commissioner of Labor to ensure that a person with a disability who is in need of personal assistance in applying for unemployment insurance benefits promptly receives such assistance, and provides that upon request, a person with a disability shall receive a face-to-face interview as part of the application process.


The extension of unemployment benefits was a priority of the Assembly majority this past session. Groups such as the Unemployment Rights Project led by Jonathan Rosen traveled to Albany to discuss this important issue.

For additional information, contact:

Assemblywoman Susan John
Chair, Committee on Labor
Legislative Office Building Room 522
Albany, New York 12248


274 N. Goodman Street
Suite C-254
Rochester, New York 14607

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