Councilmembers call on state to protect airport workers from impacts of Coronavirus outbreak, demanding workers get quality, affordable health insurance now.
QUEENS, NY—Scores of SEIU 32BJ members who work at New York airports joined New York City Council Members today in urging state lawmakers to urgently approve a law to provide workers at JFK and LaGuardia airports with quality, affordable healthcare as concerns spread about the Coronavirus outbreak.
“Our airport workers are not only a part of the fabric of our communities, they have vital responsibilities at our critical infrastructure at the John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport,” Council Member Donovan Richards said. “We undermine every resource we pour into upgrading our airports when we neglect to care for our human capital.”
New York airport workers—including wheelchair attendants, security, cleaners and passenger service representatives— participated today in training sessions on how to best protect themselves and passengers from infection by COVID-19, also known as a novel Coronavirus. The New York Committee for Occupational Health and Safety (NYCOSH), a nonprofit membership organization with more than 40 years of experience providing training, education and advocacy on workplace health and safety issues, led the training sessions.
Vladimir Clairjeune, a passenger service representative at JFK, reiterated that airport workers are proud to help passengers traveling through New York airports.
“The problem is, I watch my co-workers make impossible choices daily because a lot of us don’t have access to affordable health insurance,” he said. “Some of my friends here simply choose not to see a doctor for a health problem because it could be the difference between paying the rent, taking care of their family, or getting the care they need.”
Clairjeune pointed out airport workers have had to deal with disease outbreaks at the airports before, and will have to do so again. Workers who are in close contact with travelers routinely come into contact on the job with communicable diseases.
The CDC recommends that people who display symptoms associated with COVID-19 should stay home and visit a doctor. Many airport workers say the cost of the health insurance available to them is prohibitive, making it effectively inaccessible.
The Healthy Terminals Act (S.6266/A.8142), sponsored by State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman, would provide a $4.54 per hour benefits supplements that airport workers could use to purchase health insurance.
“Health care is a human right,” Hyndman said. “Our workers at our airports are on the front lines every day risking their lives because they do not have an adequate path to protect themselves in our trying times. We can put the resources into as much prevention as we want, but nothing is more important than being able to protect the people who are aiding in protecting us. Pass the Healthy Terminals Act – Now!”
Biaggi reiterated Hyndman’s concern about protecting workers, and the public.
“We have an urgent responsibility to keep these workers healthy while they continue to protect and serve the public,” she said. “I thank the members of the New York City Council for their support and partnership in fighting for the safety of our workers. As we speak New York is experiencing a public health outbreak, and our workers cannot wait – we must pass the Healthy Terminals Act now.”
But because of high premiums and high deductible, the insurance provided by most airport employers are often unaffordable to workers.
Other New York elected officials offered their support for the workers.
“Our airport workers stand at the gateway of the world’s busiest transit hubs,” said Queens Assemblymember Daniel Rosenthal. “Now more than ever, we must affirm our commitment to a healthy New York for all and ensure affordable healthcare for our working families.”
“We should not leave these New York heroes unprotected,” said Queens Councilmember Barry Grodenchik. “We need to pass Healthy Terminals Act and we need to do it now.”
Six cases of Coronavirus infections have been confirmed in New York State as of Wednesday morning.
The workers fought a long campaign for economic justice, eventually joining a union of their choice, SEIU 32BJ, which represents more than 10,000 workers at airports operated by the New York New Jersey Port Authority, and won an increase in the hourly minimum wage, up to $19 by 2023.
With 175,000 members in 11 states, including 12,000 in New Jersey and 85,000 in New York, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country