She is New York Workers’ Fiercest Advocate
Senator Jessica Ramos discusses how unions help build better lives, stronger communities, and a better future.
Workers make the world go round. As leaders take on the worlds’ biggest challenges — climate change, pandemics — they increasingly look to unions for answers. We’ve seen their positive influence. When unions push for green jobs, the planet moves towards a green future. When unions enforce covid safety protocols, the spread is slowed.
Few understand the impact of unions better than New York State Senator Jessica Ramos, who represents Queen’s 13th district and chairs the Senate Labor Committee. She is a fierce fighter for New York City workers, and has successfully shepherded a string of recent victories for laborers that include the signing of the Wage Theft Law and the passing of Carlos’ Law through the senate.
She recently sat down with journalist Walker Bragman for Union-Built Matters. They covered a wide range of topics including Robert De Niro’s new movie studio, climate change, Amazon’s grueling labor practices, New York’s covid response and more.
Watch the full interview video right here, or read our outline of some key points below.
Jessica Ramos has successfully shepherded big worker-friendly laws through the state senate and has a slew more in the works.
Senator Ramos has a personal connection to the plight and abuse of non-union construction workers in Queens. Many of those who suffer at the hands of powerful developers are her constituents. She also grew up here and many friends' family members had similarly tragic experiences. She talks about fighting for all workers in a far-ranging conversation with journalist Walker Bragman.
De Niro and his partners recently broke ground on a $600 million dollar, 775,000 square-foot film complex in Astoria. According to Ramos, “they promised to use union labor, they promised to share with the community quarterly reports about how the project was coming along.” But De Niro hired non-union contractors to build his complex. Et tu, Bobby?
Senator Ramos has shined a klieg light on this hypocrisy and has led a fierce fight to get unions hired and on the job.
Senator Ramose joins steamfitters local 638 on the site of the Wildflower movie studio development to protest the hiring of non-union contractors by supposedly union-friendly Robert De Niro.
Warehouse of Horrors
We’ve all heard the stories of overwork and abuse inside Amazon warehouses. Of workers peeing in bottles or dying in sweltering warehouses during Prime Day frenzies. Meanwhile, these warehouses are proliferating across at a rate that Senator Ramos describes as “dumbfounding.” And injuries and death are rising in tandem.
So Senator Ramos introduced the Warehouse Workers Protection Act that targets Amazon’s “productivity quotas” used to evaluate and penalize workers. It would force employers to disclose their quotas and to place limits on them when they risk the health and safety of workers. “The Warehouse Worker Protection Act will give workers in this industry—union or not—the ability to demand that their health and bodily integrity is accounted for,” Senator Ramos says, “not sacrificed for profits they do not get to share in.”
The Real Climate Change Myth
Senator Ramos dispenses with the false notion that achieving a greener economy will cost workers’ jobs. She says, “green jobs are more jobs. Better jobs.”
She has a unique sense of urgency in addressing this issue because she represents communities disproportionately impacted by climate-change-intensified storms: “We need a transition to clean energy, to renewable energy, to wind and solar energy.” Unions are leading the way by mastering the skills for building a green future, and by organizing. After Hurricane Sandy, a collection of New York City unions came created Climate Jobs NY, an organization with ambitious goals for revolutionizing New York’s mass transit network and energy grid, while creating good paying, union jobs.
When covid hit, it revealed to us the workers we need most: the grocery store clerks, the nurses, the food service workers, the metal lather, the teachers. These are the truly essential.
During the pandemic, senator Ramos fought to have covid treated as an occupational hazard. This would ensure workers whose jobs forced them to be exposed to the virus could receive hazard pay, reflecting the increased health risks they were taking on. And receive adequate paid time off and compensation to recover if they were exposed. “We’re talking about the workers that we clapped for at 7PM at the height of the pandemic. And this is how we should be clapping now. We should be clapping with paid sick leave, we should be clapping with hazard pay… for everybody who was forced to go out there because they needed to make a living, but also because they needed to keep us fed and healthy and safe.”
The working world of New York City has become hazardous for workers in new ways and in old. In their corner, looking out for their welfare, for their fair pay, for their respect, is New York’s fiercest worker advocate, Senator Jessica Ramos.
Walker Bragman is a journalist based out of New York.
Mark Colangelo is a writer and blogger.
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