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New York bill would require retailers to adopt safety measures

Retail Worker Safety Act opposed by some retail groups for being costly to businesses

The New York State Assembly on Monday passed the Retail Worker Safety Act, which would require retailers to adopt a violence prevention plan and to train workers in de-escalation and dealing with active shooters.

In addition, retailers with more than 500 employees nationwide would be required to install panic buttons in their stores or provide mobile-phone activated or wearable panic buttons.

The bill, which now goes before the New York State Senate, has been opposed by retail groups, including the Food Industry Alliance of New York State.

“We strongly oppose the bill,” Michael Durant, president and CEO of FIA, told Supermarket News. “This is a bill that is a top issue for FIA.”

Other retail groups, including the Bodega and Small Business Association of New York, have also spoken out against the bill, saying it is too costly for small, independent retailers.

N.Y. Gov. Kathy Hochul has pledged to combat retail theft and addressed the matter in her State of the State address earlier this year, citing increased levels of property crime since the pandemic.

“Business owners and retail workers are facing increased stress and financial strain, and New Yorkers are concerned and frustrated running simple errands at a local pharmacy, grocery story, or retail shop,” she said.

Durant at the time said he applauded Hochul’s focus on the issue, but he also expressed concerns that some measures could increase costs for retailers.

In her state budget, Hochul included increased penalties for assaulting retail workers and increased funding for law enforcement related to retail theft. The budget also included $5 million in tax credits for small businesses who invest at least $3,000 in retail theft prevention measures.

The Retail Worker Safety Act, sponsored by Democratic lawmakers, has been promoted heavily by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers.

“Every day, we hear stories of workplace violence and harassment from our members, and it’s unacceptable,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the RWDSU. “Employers can, and should, do more to protect their employees.”

N.Y. State Sen. Jessica Ramos, chair of the Senate Labor Committee, said the basic premise of the bill is that “workplaces should have a plan.”

“Employers and workers should think about a course of action in advance, in the hopes that they will never have to use it,” she said.

The bill would require the New York Department of Labor to produce a model workplace violence prevention training program, and then require retailers to provide this training to their employees.

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