Life in New York changed overnight Friday, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order that sent all non-essential workers home.
But who, exactly, is essential?
The list issued by the state is clear on some areas, but less so in others. Law enforcement, emergency response, financial institutions, agriculture and news media are among the categories considered essential, according to the executive order. But the designation can get murky in other areas, such as manufacturing.
This has led to questions whether various local manufacturers are – or should be – considered essential, and whether they should still be in operation.
Intertek is one local company that is still in operation, but its status as essential has been questioned. At least one employee has filed a complaint with the state attorney general’s office, alleging that Intertek does not qualify as essential manufacturing. The labor bureau of the state Attorney General’s office did not respond to emailed questions about complaints alleging violations of the executive order by Intertek or any other Cortland business.
Intertek, a massive multinational inspection and testing corporation that employs more than 46,000 people worldwide, “delivers innovative and bespoke assurance, testing, inspection and certification solutions for our customers’ operations and supply chains,” according to its web site.
- For more information on what New York considers an essential business, go to https://esd.ny.gov/ guidance-executive-order-2026.
- If you believe your employer is in violation of labor laws or official state directives, you can file a complaint with the New York State Office of the Attorney General’s Labor Bureau at 212-416-8700 or Labor.Bureau@ag.ny.gov
Who determines whether these or other services are essential?
If business leaders think their companies fall under the essential categories, then the implication of the executive order is that these businesses can keep operating, if they follow safety and hygiene guidelines.
“It’s left to the company to self-determine,” said Garry VanGorder, president of the Cortland County Business Development Corporation/Industrial Development Agency. In some cases, he said, that determination is clear.
“But in other cases, it’s more of a gray area,” he said.
So is monitoring the working conditions to see whether employees are following safe practices to avoid transmission, said county Public Health Director Catherine Feuerherm on Wednesday.
“We’ve been kind of working on scout’s honor,” she said. “But everyone has a social responsibility here.”
Enforcement would seem to come from the state attorney general’s office, which last week issued a statement encouraging people to report business violating Cuomo’s executive order.
But businesses that do not think they fall under the listed categories, yet think they should be considered essential, can apply for an official designation from the Empire State Development Corp., the state’s economic development arm.
“Empire State Development has received thousands waiver requests,” wrote spokeswoman Kristen Devoe in an email.
“Staff are reviewing them as quickly as possible and our primary focus is responding to businesses who have requested a waiver.” She did not answer questions about specific greater Cortland area businesses and whether they had applied for or received waivers.
Cheryl Prejsnar, public relations manager for Intertek North America, referred comment to the company’s website.
“Intertek businesses continue to operate with a business as usual approach around the world, recognizing that there could be some disruption caused by government initiatives to contain the virus,” according to a statement posted on the website. “Our business continuity plans are fully in place across our operations and we are also staying in close contact with our customers to mitigate the potential disruption to the supply chains of our customers’ operations.”
Intertek has also posted detailed plans regarding safety protocols in compliance with state and federal health directives.
Internal emails obtained by the Cortland Standard indicate that Intertek considers its Cortland operations as qualifying as essential. One email mentions mandatory work on Saturday, March 21, and encourages employees to sign up for additional four-hour shifts on Saturday and Sunday to obtain $75 “Star Awards” to meet production quotas.
As of Wednesday afternoon, VanGorder said he had confirmed that Intertek, as well as the following Cortland County businesses, are still in operation:
Pall, Pyrotek, Cortland Plastics, Byrne Dairy, Economy Paving and Suit-Kote.
KIK Custom Products also still appears to be in operation, judging from the parking lot and the level of activity that can be observed in and around its Huntington Street plant. KIK, which has two local plants, manufactures “personal care hotel amenities,” according to its web site.
General Manager Kevin Stevenson said Monday that he couldn’t comment on whether the plant had obtained a state waiver.
“I can’t speak on the topic right now,” he said. “Maybe in a few days or so.”
Stevenson could not be reached for further comment Wednesday.
Some manufacturers know for sure that they are officially cleared to keep operating, such as Forkey Construction & Fabrication, Inc., at 3690 Luker Road, Cortlandville. The company makes a variety of components for food and medical companies as well as other customers.
Owner Charlie Forkey said he was fairly certain his business qualified as essential, but he wanted it on paper.
“I’d rather have something in writing,” Forkey said.
He submitted an application to Empire State Development on March 19 and received official confirmation as an essential manufacturing business two days later.
“I felt that we were, but I really wanted that as reassurance,” he said.
His manufacturing workers continue to work almost normally, but they abide by requirements about social distancing and handwashing and sanitizing.
He made it easier for employees to work second shift so they can be home during the day.
Keeping 6 feet distance between workers at his plant is no problem because most workstations are already spaced at least 10 to 16 feet apart, and workers have their own stations, he said.
Most of the office staff — about 85% — is working from home.
“Obviously the health and safety of our employees is our greatest concern right now,” Forkey said.
C&D Assembly in Groton qualifies under several categories of essential manufacturing, said co-owner Jeff Cronk.
His company has not applied for a waiver, but Cronk said his company’s activities fit squarely under the categories specified in the state list. C&D Assembly manufactures electronic components for a variety of customers, most of which are themselves considered essential, he said.
C&D Assembly is allowing staff who can work from home to work from home – namely the office staff. Everybody else is working at least 6 feet part and required to follow handwashing and hand sanitizing protocols. Like Forkey Fabrication, C&D Assembly has a lot of floor space.
“We’re pretty spread out, so it’s easy for us to get people apart,” Cronk said. “Our biggest challenge is we have some people who are scared to be out and about. If somebody just doesn’t want to be here, I’m not going to hold it against them.”
No matter how this COVID-19 crisis plays out over the coming weeks, Cronk said his employees will have a job waiting for them, even if they choose to stay home.
“We’d absolutely welcome them back,” he said. “We will not hold that against them.”
Managing Editor Todd R. McAdam contributed to this report.