Gov. Cuomo signs ‘Healthy Terminals Act’ to Bring Healthcare to nearly 12,000 Essential Frontline Airport Workers
NEW YORK— Sumintra Ramkissoon, a security officer at John F. Kennedy International Airport, is one of nearly 12,000 airport workers receiving a life-changing gift this season: the Healthy Terminals Act signed into law.
The Healthy Terminals Act, the first-state level legislation of its kind in the country, provides a benefit supplement that can provide meaningful and sustainable healthcare benefits for airport workers, including cabin and terminal cleaners, wheelchair attendants, baggage claim attendants, security officers and passenger service representatives at John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, to be implemented in phases, with those who have worked through the COVID-19 pandemic this year receiving the supplement first, in July 2021.
“I thank Governor Cuomo for raising standards for airport workers in these difficult times, and I thank bill sponsors Senator Biaggi and Assemblywoman Hyndman for fighting tirelessly for this bill, as well as Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, and Speaker Heastie for their leadership,” SEIU 32BJ President Kyle Bragg said. “Essential, front line airport workers will breathe a deep sigh of relief knowing that real healthcare is an option soon. Adding a healthcare benefit supplement to airport jobs creates thousands of good, sustainable jobs that uplift everyone. Airport workers have risked their lives for the public during this unstoppable pandemic, and nothing is more important than protecting them.
The passage of the Healthy Terminals Act greatly improves conditions for the predominantly Black and immigrant subcontracted airline workers who have been on the front lines of the pandemic since day one, and whose communities have been devastated by the virus, and it is a major victory for essential airport workers who secure terminals, sanitize planes, keep passengers safe and our economy running.
“I still have hospital bills coming in from when I had COVID-19,” said Ramkissoon, who went home from work one day in late March, feeling ill. “It’s hard for people working at the airport to pay for medical bills when we don’t get affordable or reliable healthcare from our jobs, especially when we have reduced hours and furloughs. But now we have a chance at healthcare that we can rely on.”
Airport workers often make too much to qualify for Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act subsidies, and too little to afford employer-provided health plans, including many with sky-high, unaffordable premiums, co-pays and deductibles.
Many on the job have been forced to live without health insurance, like Horace Foster, a baggage claim attendant at JFK. He currently owes over $120,000 in medical bills after a hospital stay that threw him into spiraling debt.
“A [medical] bill like that is the type of thing that ruins your life. I hope it never happens to anybody else who works at the airport. With the Healthy Terminals Act, it shouldn’t ever happen to anybody else,” said Foster.
The landmark Healthy Terminals Act comes as the airline industry is set to receive $16 billion in the latest COVID-19 federal relief package. The act will require employers at New York airports to compensate workers, including subcontracted passenger services workers, a $4.54 benefits supplement that they will be able to use to acquire the quality health insurance they desperately need.
Workers could use this supplement for health insurance; employees working under collectively bargained contracts could negotiate to use this supplement to provide affordable, quality health insurance directly.
“I want to thank our essential workers and 32BJ for fighting for better healthcare,” said Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman (D-29), bill sponsor. “The Healthy Terminals Act for workers means that they might not have to make tough decisions between going to the doctor and paying the rent. For the state, it means millions in Medicaid savings. It means that travelers can have a safe trip. I’m proud of New York for standing with workers in this crucial legislation.”
“This is a victory for all New Yorkers as we take an integral step to protect some of our most vulnerable workers in the wake of the global pandemic,” said State Senator Alessandra Biaggi (D-34), bill sponsor. “Long before COVID-19, mostly Black, Brown, and immigrant airport workers served this state on the frontlines without access to the healthcare they need to keep themselves and their families safe. With the signing of the Healthy Terminals Act, these essential workers will finally have access to affordable healthcare coverage. This win would not have been possible without the dedicated advocacy of airport workers, working families, 32BJ SEIU, and Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman.”
Biaggi continued, “it is also a somber occasion as we remember the lives of airport workers already lost to COVID-19. This law is dedicated to the memory of Leland Jordan, a baggage handler at John F. Kennedy International Airport, who was one of the first airport workers serving New Yorkers to die from COVID-19. We will never be able to erase the pain of losing Leland and other beloved New Yorkers, but in their memory, I am proud to say that we are building a better future for their colleagues with this bill finally written into law.”
“Signing this bill into law changes our lives and gives us the protection we need to do our jobs,” said Foster, who is currently laid off. “My health conditions have been too expensive to treat but now that all could change. I’m looking forward to getting my life back, and getting back to work with masks, gloves and finally, health insurance.”
With 175,000 members in 11 states and Washington DC, including more than 8,500 New York City-area airport workers, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property services union in the country.