When machinist Chris Walsh's hours were reduced at one point...

When machinist Chris Walsh's hours were reduced at one point in 2020 by Northfield Precision Instrument Corp. in Island Park, the Shared Work Program "helped keep things kind of normal," he said. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

More employers might participate in a state program that prevents layoffs during recessions because of a bill signed into law recently by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

The new law establishes a formal mechanism for groups of workers who are about to receive pink slips or have already been laid off to request that their employer participate in the state Shared Work Program. Previously no such mechanism existed for employees.

The employer must respond to the employees’ written request, but doesn’t have to apply for the 35-year-old program, the law states.

Under Shared Work, employees remain on the payroll but receive unemployment benefits for the time that they don’t work, up to 26 weeks per year. The employer agrees not to issue pink slips and to continue to fund the employees’ health insurance and retirement plans. Also, those who have been laid off may be rehired.

"We have added another way for companies to avoid layoffs and keep New Yorkers employed," Hochul said on Oct. 23 after signing the bill into law.

Shared Work is open to businesses, nonprofits and other employers that are experiencing financial distress. Participation soared in the pandemic’s first year, with nearly 61,600 jobs saved statewide, including 5,525 on Long Island in the 12 months ended March 2, according to the state Department of Labor, which runs the program.

The number of employers in Shared Work totaled 3,300 statewide and 355 on Long Island in the COVID-19 recession compared with 485 statewide and 55 locally in the first year of the 2007-08 recession. Among the participants was Long Island Community Hospital in Patchogue and Northfield Precision Instrument Corp. in Island Park.

The new law prohibits an employer from discriminating or retaliating against employee groups who petition them in writing to participate in Shared Work. The employer then has seven days to provide a written response, stating their decision on whether to apply for Shared Work and, if applicable, whether the application was successful.

The Long Island Association, a regional business group, hailed the changes to Shared Work.

"Businesses are still feeling the impacts" of COVID-19, LIA CEO Matthew Cohen told Newsday. "It's welcome that New York State continues to examine programs for employers and employees, like Shared Work, to ensure they are working and being utilized."

The bill, sponsored by State Sen. Shelley Mayer (D-Westchester County) and Assemb. Harry Bronson (D-Rochester), passed both houses of the State Legislature overwhelmingly, 197 to 14.

Among those voting "nay" were two members of the Long Island delegation: Sen. Alexis Weik (R-Sayville) and Assemb. Michael Montesano (R-Glen Head).

Montesano said the new law compels an employer’s participation in the Shared Work program and boosts their contributions to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund because more employees are receiving jobless benefits.

"Whenever you make such a thing available and the employer doesn’t do it, the next thing that follows is a lawsuit," he said in an interview last week. "I’m not opposed to helping the employee in certain circumstances, but if their employer is already hurting, how are we helping by increasing their expenses?"

Weik declined to comment.

More information on Shared Work may be found at dol.ny.gov/shared-work-program-0.

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