Hundreds of Workers inspired by MLK Remind Airlines that ‘All Labor Has Dignity’ and Show Support for Critical Health Insurance Legislation
QUEENS, NY— QUEENS, NY— About 500 32BJ members rallied at JFK airport today in a rally inspired by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to support New York airport workers who gathered inside the airport’s Terminal 8 in a large circle to pray for health insurance benefits and protections for workers and passengers.
“We just came from inside Terminal 8 where we prayed for healthcare,” said SEIU 32BJ president Kyle Bragg, as he addressed hundreds of union members, advocates, elected leaders and community members. “Why? Because our journey to justice is not yet complete. We are close but not there yet. We won’t get there until we win quality, affordable healthcare.”
“For everything we’ve won,” LaGuardia wheelchair Jordany Bueno Vasquez said, “we need health insurance that we can afford to make it meaningful, to actually have a livable wage.”
The lively rally included music from gospel singers, a choir and a drum section. In speeches and prayers, workers and their supporters pointed out that the workers’ struggle for adequate protections and good working conditions is hampered by carriers such as American Airlines, which continue to use irresponsible contractors like Eulen America, that suppress the workers’ aspiration to gain union protection.
Donna Hampton, a security officer at the John F. Kennedy International Airport, recalled for the audience the long journey airport workers had to walk to win respect, dignity, economic and social justice, as well as union protection.
“But, as long as there are brothers and sister at New York airports yearning for the protection of a union contract and they are being stopped, then we’re all back where we were the day our movement started,” Hampton said. “I want all my non-union brothers and sisters to have the same protections I have and for them to be with me in the fight to win those final benefits for health insurance.”
In honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., workers engaged in rallies and protest actions at airports up and down the East Coast to stand up to race-to-the-bottom employers that force hardworking people into poverty. The legacy honored with MLK has long served as inspiration to propel the fight for dignity for airport workers with 32BJ SEIU. Inspired by Dr. King’s vision that “all labor has dignity,” airport workers spoke out about the need for health insurance at the nation’s busiest airports.
“On this day that we honor the memory of Dr. King,” Council Member Donovan Richards said, “we must be mindful of his warning that ‘Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.’ These hardworking New Yorkers deserve quality, affordable health insurance.”
Workers at New York and New Jersey airports, with their union, Local 32BJ SEIU, have been struggling for social and economic justice in our region for many years now. They have made significant, historic gains. These workers fought hard for and won a $19 minimum wage—the highest minimum wage in the nation. They won a union and brought back standards that the airline industry wanted to bring down.
“We want to help airport workers finish the journey they started years ago by helping them win healthcare benefits,” said Bragg. “That is why 32BJ SEIU has as its 2020 legislative priority passing the Healthy Terminals Act in New York and New Jersey.”
The Healthy Terminals Act (HTA), seeks to use a provision similar to the Service Contract Act (SCA), which affects contracted federal workers. The law would require passenger services contractors hired by carriers in the region’s airports to provide their employees with a benefits supplement that they can use to acquire the healthcare they desperately need. Other contracted workers at the airports have similar benefits.
“I’m proud to stand with 32BJ SEIU and workers from one of our nation’s busiest airports to fight for an issue that affects all Americans, quality and affordable healthcare,” Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney said. “Irresponsible contractors have doubled down on the poor treatment of workers and are pushing anti-union tactics designed to limit benefits. New York must put a stop to this abuse, and pass the Healthy Terminals Act to establish higher minimum standards for pay and benefits and protect the workers at New York and New Jersey airports. All workers deserve to be treated with dignity, and securing adequate health care coverage is absolutely essential.”
The HTA will cover low-wage workers in the region’s airports, including security, baggage handling, cleaning/janitorial and wheelchair agents who serve millions of travelers daily. The HTA would require employers to provide a $4.54-an-hour supplement to wages that airport workers could use to acquire health care.
“These hardworking New Yorkers are on the frontline at our airports every minute of every single day,” Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman, a co-sponsor of the New York state’s HTA bill, said. “Just a few days ago, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced it is sending experts to JFK to screen passengers for a mysterious respiratory virus that has already killed three people and sickened about 50 more overseas. And we’re asking our airport workers to face this contagion alone without quality, affordable health insurance to protect them and their families? Shocking. Just shocking.”
“Many employers at the airport, like Eulen, offer health insurance with premiums and deductibles that are so high that they are effectively inaccessible for workers,” said SEIU 32BJ Vice President Rob Hill. “Like other contracted workers at airports, employers of low-wage airport workers — not the taxpayers of New York/New Jersey — should be footing the cost of workers’ health care coverage.”
“Our airport workers are on the front lines of our state, interacting with travelers from all over the world. Their health has a direct impact on the safety of every family member, friend, and neighbor they go home to,” State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi said. “Yet, many of them do not have the protection of quality, affordable health insurance. In fact, many workers choose to go without health insurance because they cannot afford the coverage offered by their employer. This is unfair and unjust. That is why I am fighting to pass the Healthy Terminals Act, which will give thousands of workers at our airports the ability to acquire healthcare without falling into poverty, and the services they need to live full and healthy lives.”
“Our airports should be a safe environment for the public and the workers,” U.S. Rep. Max Rose said. “We need workers to feel free to speak out so together we can address problems and raise standards at the airport. When workers suffer, we all suffer.”
With 175,000 members in 11 states, including 9,000 airport workers in New York and New Jersey, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country