Protections for workers to guard against coronavirus as well as strengthened health care benefits are dominating the 2021 agenda for the New York State AFL-CIO. 

The labor group late last week approved a package of priorities for the comnig year that focuses heavily on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on workers and the protections that need to be put in place for their safety.

But at the same time, the AFL-CIO is also pointing to more acute issues surrounding the needs of so-called "gig economy" workers who provided services for on-demand apps like Uber and Lyft as well as the broad problems arising from the state's multi-billion budget gap created by the pandemic. 

“The recurring theme from every sector of the labor movement is that essential workers are protecting our safety and we, as a state, need to do more to protect workers,” said New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento.

Labor faces a major challenge in the coming year amid high unemployment created by the crisis and the potential for public-sector layoffs heading into the new year amid a budget shortfall for state and local governments. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has raised the possibility of workers in the public sector losing their jobs if direct aid from the federal government is not enough to offset the massive revenue losses from this year.

“With bold leadership, we can protect all New Yorkers from the worst of the health and economic effects of the pandemic," Cilento said. "This is not just labor’s hope, but on behalf of 2.5 million members and their families, it is our expectation."

The 2021 priorities for the labor group include funding to support workers, passing a measure that would establish minimum standards for COVID related workplace safety protocols including personal protection equipment, testing and social distancing. 

The organization is also seeking an extension of death benefits for survivors of public workers who were required to work during the pandemic and have died of COVID-19. And the AFL-CIO is seeking benefits for workers who were exposed at work to receive wage replacement benefits and care including specialty health and mental health services. 

Unemployment benefits for those who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 should be expanded and strengthened. Funding and access to child care services as a result of remote learning should be increased, according to the AFL-CIO's agenda. 

And, in a coming debate over the protections for people who work in on-demand, app-based services sector, the AFL-CIO wants measures that would require those companies to provide those workers with "the same rights and protections as all other workers."