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Association’s Members Awaiting Guidance With New York HERO Act

Durant New York
Michael Durant

Ongoing recovery likely will be ‘a couple-year process’ for New York

by Eric Pereira / staff writer

Although New York has high COVID-19 vaccination rates and is seeing more signs of normality, some uncertainty remains for grocers and retailers.

On May 5, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the New York Health and Essential Rights Act into law. According to the state’s Department of Labor website, the HERO Act mandates extensive new workplace health and safety protections in response to the pandemic.

“I think anything related to COVID and sort of implementing COVID-related procedures permanently, was a priority to avoid,” said Michael Durant, president and CEO of the New York Food Industry Alliance.

He expressed disappointment that the state passed the measure, which will impose substantial responsibilities on every private employer as it relates to airborne infectious diseases. They’ll learn the specifics in the coming weeks.

“A lot of it is going to require an emergency action plan if an infectious disease outbreak occurs,” Durant said. “But what is that infectious airborne disease? How will that be defined?”

This can also mandate PPE and other safety procedures in case another outbreak was to occur.

“One of the problems with bills like this is, while it’s fine to look in the past to be more prepared for events like this in the future. At the same time, New York is just reopening now,” he said.

Durant was pleased with the vaccination rate topping 70 percent.

“It shows tremendous effort, not only by our members to ensure New Yorkers, throughout the pandemic, were fed and had access to food, but also their involvement in the vaccination effort,” he said.

The HERO Act’s passage came after what Durant described as a “complicated” legislative session dominated by COVID. Some priorities for NYFIA included opposing matters such as an unemployment increase for employers, pandemic-related changes to employer liability and redefining gig economy for workers.

In regard to other grocery industry hurdles in New York, Durant sees many of the same challenges happening across the U.S.

“A lot of the industry wants to ramp up some hiring, and finding that is proving to be difficult,” he said. “Obviously, costs are higher now than they were…so those general supply chain inflationary type issues are here.”

The biggest challenge for his association is two-fold – labor and navigating consumer behavior. “I think it’s going to be a couple-year process for sure…there’s a lot more that we don’t know, economically for the industry and economically as a whole in New York…but a lot of it’s going to be predicated upon how people behave,” he said.

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