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Senate approves Retail Worker Safety Act, sending it to Hochul’s desk

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A bill aimed at increasing safety for retail workers is heading to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s desk for her signature. 

The legislation requires retail employers to train employees and have programs to prevent workplace violence. It also requires panic buttons for businesses with more than 500 employees nationwide.

If signed, the state Department of Labor will have to put together a training program. It also requires employers to maintain records of violent incidents in the workplace for at least three years.

The bill, known to supporters as the Retail Worker Safety Act, passed the Assembly earlier this week and passed the Senate on Friday. It had strong support from labor groups such as the Retail, Wholesale and Department Story Union, which represents 45,000 workers in New York. The bill faced pushback from business owners over the costs to meet requirements. Other business owners said they’re already working hard to keep staff safe and criticized public safety reforms as the reason for increased retail crimes.

The legislation comes amid concern about violence and harassment against retail workers. The state budget made assaulting a retail employee a felony, created a retail crimes task force led by State Police and a tax credit for small businesses to increase security measures. 

Last month, state Assembly Labor Committee Chair Harry Bronson pointed to the mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket as a prime example for passing the new requirements.

“May 14, 2022, 10 people in Buffalo working for Tops went to work, 10 people didn’t come home,” Bronson, a Democrat from Rochester, said. “This bill is all about making sure that we honor those folks and that we have measures put in place for all retail workers.”

If signed into law, the new rules will go into effect 90 days later. Businesses would have until Jan. 1, 2027, to comply with the panic button requirements. 

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