Earlier this morning, Governor Kathy Hochul signed a package of legislation to address workplace harassment and discrimination. Legislation (S.0812b/A.2035b) establishes a toll free confidential hotline for complaints of workplace sexual harassment. Legislation (S.3395b/A.2483b) includes the State and all public employers as subject to the provisions of the Human Rights Law. Legislation (S.5870/A.7101) prohibits the release of personnel files as a retaliatory action against employees. The legislation was signed at a Women’s History Month celebration with advocates for gender equity and women’s rights.
VIDEO of the event is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h.264, mp4) format here.
AUDIO of the event is available here.
PHOTOS of the event will be available on the Governor’s Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks is available below:
Good morning everyone. And yes, indeed it is Women’s History Month. Let’s make some more history, my friends, but as I’ve said all along, what’s more important than making history is making a difference. That’s what all of you do and that’s why I wanted to gather you here to celebrate, yes, our great history in the State of New York, but also the accomplishments of so many people and the culmination of these efforts are going to lead to a bill signing in a few moments.
So, Renee Flagler, thank you for bringing the energy here today and thank you for all you’ve done for Girls Incorporated Long Island. We’ve worked together for a long, long time, Renee. So thank you for all you do.
Also, Tori Kelly, our co-founder of the Sexual Harassment Working Group. Tori, let’sgive it up for her. Having the courage to stand up and speak truth to power the way that you have, you’ve given a voice to so many people who’ve had to live in the shadows and suffer in silence. So, Tori, thank you. And everyone who’s part of this working group for making tremendous progress.
We also have amazing allies in our legislature. Andrew Gounardes, our Senator, who’sone of our bill sponsors. Let’s give it up for him. One of the enlightened men in our legislature, thank you very much.
Alessandra Biaggi, Senator, also a bill sponsor. I don’t know if she’s here. Senator Biaggi’s right here. Senator Biaggi.
Yuh-Line Niou, Assemblymember and one of our bill sponsors. And Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, another one of our bill sponsors.
But I also can’t forget my other friends in government. Cordell Cleare is here, our Senator from this great place of Harlem. I know that area well. Home of my Lieutenant Governor.
Rebecca Seawright is here. Yudelka Tapia is here from the assembly. Jo Anne Simon’s here, Catalina Cruz is here. Vanessa Gibson, our Borough President in the Bronx. Gale Brewer’s here, Council Member from Manhattan, as well as Marjorie Velazquez, our City Council Member.
Melinda Katz, I think is in the house. I’ve got to look at this side of the room, our great District Attorney, as well as other friends in many offices.
The advocates, the advocates are the ones I am here to celebrate because it was advocates like you who stood up in 1848 and said enough is enough. We are sick and tired of being treated like the property of men and having no rights, certainly not the audacity even think they could have the right to vote, but were denigrated. Those who stood up were ostracized by their communities, their families, and yet they marched on. And because they had that courage in a small place called Seneca Falls and gathered, 300 of them, I’m figuring out how without social media and GPS, did they even know how to get to Seneca Falls? I’m going to ponder that thought for a long time, but they found their way and they paved the way for the rest of us. And I honor that history because this is New York. This is the birthplace of the women’s rights movement. And that is why we gather here at this moment in history, our own history, as we make history that I want people in future generations to talk about what we did in our time to lift up women and children, to give them a better chance and a better outcome.
So, to the leaders and the activists who are fighting for equality and continue to lift up the voices, I honor all of you, and let’s talk a little bit about that history. The long journey from Seneca Falls to 1917. And many of you gathered with us as we celebrate the Centennial of women’s right to vote here in the State of New York. We had a celebration for a long celebration over a year and a half, and talked about that history because we want people of today and our children to understand that these rights did not come easily. They came because of a lot of courageous people who persevered and fought forward. And as a result, we do have the right to ballot box, but it was not there for everyone. It wasn’t until the voting rights acts in the sixties that Black women had the right to vote as well. So let’s acknowledge that part of our history.
You think about the great names, Sojourner Truth. Great statue of her, I just named a beautiful new State Park after Sojourner Truth. Harriet Tubman, one of my personal heroes as a child growing up, thinking about her incredible courage. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott. These are the names that sound like they’re from the past, but those are the echoes I hear every day as I continue as the first woman governor of this state, I know that they are also watching me and I’ll be judged by what we do in this time, just as we look back at that time as well. And that’s what we talk about today.
But beyond the sense of history, and I want you to be steeped in that knowledge that we did not get here without a lot of struggle. What are our struggles today?
We saw what this pandemic did to the women of our state. It brought them down. I wrote a column literally within two weeks of that pandemic hitting us, saying women are already being disproportionally hit by this pandemic because they are the first responders. They are the nurses running into those flames that they encountered when they went into the unknown and their jobs every day, trying to heal people from this unknown, scary disease.
It was the nurses. It was the frontline workers, it was the people who continued to take care of our children during a pandemic that allowed other people to get to their jobs. The people that drove the buses and the subways, the people who clean the hotels that were open, but people lost their jobs as well. They lost their income. And even those who had a job to go to, they had children at home. How do you balance that? The kids need to be educated at the kitchen table.
So we saw the inequities, the disparities, the challenges that were there before, but we’re just exacerbated by this pandemic. So there was a call to all of us. What are we really doing to help lift women up so they can have the better paying jobs, so they can have the luxury of zooming into life should there be another pandemic instead of having to be on the front line in low wage jobs? Let’s turn that around. Let’s talk about pay equity, how women still, in the great state of New York, are not paid the same as men. And I know Roberta Reardon, our great commissioner labor understands us because she has been a champion to change that dynamic.
And the childcare crisis. During my introduction it was mentioned that I worked for Senator Moynihan. Why did I leave that job that I loved? I didn’t have childcare. I had to leave a job I loved and to go back where I had more of a support system back home, because a lot of people, long time ago, we’re not talking about childcare. That’syour own problem. That’s your problem. You wanted to have kids. The bosses didn’tcare. You figured it out. Although Senator Moynihan was very nice about it. He said, come back anytime.
But society didn’t seem to care it. The economy didn’t seem to care about it. But right now, in this point in history, they do care about it because that’s why our buildings aren’t filled up yet because women have to still be home taking care of the kids.
So I’m trying to get our major employers to be enlightened and realize that they have the power. They can help alleviate this. Why aren’t we using some of our vacant space that may never be filled again and putting in childcare centers, people will be coming back to work in droves. Let’s be creative about how we deal with this.
And making sure that the healthcare disparities that hit women, but particularly people in communities of color, why are the numbers so much higher that people contracted the disease and succumb to the disease higher in those communities? That’s why I have Dr. Mary Bassett at my side to make sure that we peel back and find out what happened. So we never leaving any [community] so exposed again. That’s what we’re going to do.
So I mentioned a few members of my administration. I am so proud that I was able to assemble the best and the brightest. I have over 25 key cabinet members who are women, because I went after the smartest. I went after the most compassionate people. And I want to honor those who are here today. I see Fran Barrett here as well. Fran, thank you for your many years of service as well. So it’s about bringing smart people together. It’s about teaming up with the advocates and it’s about getting things over the finish line.
And that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Yes, we’ve had a challenge women, no surprise to any of us. Sexual harassment in the workplace is as old as the workplaces, it’s been there a long time. And it was just under the radar, no one really talked about it. It’s what you put up with. If you wanted to work in the male dominated places, whether it’s politics, whether it’s construction sites, whether they’re in tech businesses, it’s been out there a long time, but nobody ever had the courage to just say I’m willing to stand up, until we heard some voices of women in Albany and started forming this sexual harassment workforce and said there has to be a better way. We have to be able to protect women and let them know that there is a safe place for them, no matter where they want to work, that place must be safe for them.
I also championed this, going to countless college campuses, talking about sexual assault and harassment on campus. We send our daughters off for an education and trying to integrate into society they have to be in this environment where there’s date rape and harassment, and they have to sit with their classmates, someone who has harassed them or raped them or attacked them the night before, they have to still sit in class with them because there were no laws to protect those young women. That has changed as well.
So, I am very proud today to announce that we will be signing a number of bills that came through this process. To the advocates who made this happen, and their champions in the legislature: I’m proud to sign bills that will address sexual harassment in the workplace and say that once and for all, my administration has cleaned house. This is a new day in New York. As I said on the first day, that everyone has the right to a safe, secure workplace, where they are valued and respected.
We created a human resources department, a real one, so actually real complaints can be heard by real people, who will take action. We actually have an outside law firm available for people to complain to, so there’s no sense that anybody within my administration can cover up or sweep something under the rug. No longer a women have to live in fear in any workplace, particularly in our administration.
So I’ve also directed all of our employees to have anti-harassment training. Everybody. That was not going on before, but also I said, and it’s going to be in person, you know why? Because I know people just click through, right? Are they really paying attention? I want real accountability. I want everyone who calls themselves a state employee to have been trained in anti-harassment training.
And also, to make sure there’s no conflict of interest, I want people to feel safe with making sure that they know that there’s an environment that will listen to them and take them seriously and act upon it. That is the change that we’re talking. So today, the bills I’m signing will help everyone know that they can live and also work in an environment where they’ll have dignity, respect, and the safety they deserve.
First of all, we’ll be signing a bill sponsored by Senator Biaggi and co-sponsored by Yuh-Line Niou in the assembly, that establishes a toll-free confidential hotline for complaints of workplace sexual harassment. There’ll be trained people, there’ll be a link to people who are attorneys who can help them deal with what they’re going through, but a place that can just make a phone call, and we will advertise this phone number. So that is an important step. First of all, to get that toll free number up there, and let’s get that done with the signing of the bill today. Congratulations.
Also, Senator Gounardes and Yuh-Line Niou, this will include that all state and public employers are now subjected to the human rights law. It seems like there was a loophole out there. Let’s close the loophole once and for all that says that you are subjected to the human rights laws, and that means that your employees have all the protections that are out there in the private sector. They now are conferred upon all state workers for the first time. Human rights law will now be changed.
Also, Senator Gounardes and Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas, we are now getting prohibiting retaliatory action by employers, against employees who oppose unlawful discriminatory practices as well. So congratulations on stopping retaliatory action in the workplace as well.
So, this is not the end. This is just the beginning. These are the bills that are on my desk. I know there are more bills that are being considered by the Senate and the Assembly. And I look forward to keeping my pens sharp here, my pencils sharp, to be able to sign as you make the progress through the legislature over the next session, because I will work with you. You have an advocate in me. You have a champion who understands that, not only do I want to protect everyone today, but I have a daughter. I have a daughter and a granddaughter on the way. So, this is personal for me as well. So I’m honored to represent you. I’m honored to be a champion on causes to support women, as I’ve done since the early days when my mother became an advocate for victims of domestic violence, before anybody else was talking about this in the Seventies. And she got laws changed in our legislature because of her advocacy.
And my sister, Sheila, is here today, who went on this journey with me, when my mother opened up a home for victims of domestic violence. And I want to recognize her for having to deal with a sister like me.
So to all of my sisters, all my sisters, I thank you. I thank you, and I will just say we’rejust getting started. Let’s sign some bills. Take care, everybody. Thank you.