Hundreds of Workers inspired by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Remind Airlines that ‘All Labor Has Dignity’ and Show Support for Critical Health Insurance Legislation
NEWARK, N.J. – Honoring the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., about 100 airport workers rallied today to demonstrate the need for access to quality, affordable healthcare at Newark Liberty International Airport, one of the nation’s busiest transit hubs.
Workers rallied for the Healthy Terminals Act (S377), a bill recently introduced in NJ that requires employers to provide passenger service and retail workers at EWR a minimum wage and a $4.54/hour supplement that they could use to acquire health care. A matching bill was introduced in New York that covers JFK and LGA.
Workers in purple, carrying signs with King’s image and the slogan “All Labor Has Dignity,” stepped into Terminal A with local faith leaders and gathered to pray to protect passenger and worker health as 40,000 workers struggle to obtain affordable, meaningful healthcare coverage. Workers sang outside the terminal to lift up workers’ voices in honor of the slain civil rights leader Dr. King.
Tens of thousands of workers deal daily with the consequences of having inadequate or no health insurance.
“This is no way to live,” said Yvette Stevens, a baggage handler at Newark Liberty. “We work day in, day out, exposed to all sorts of diseases and sicknesses. Health insurance is absolutely everything for me—I need it to survive because I have a chronic illness that costs me thousands of dollars per month. Going to the doctor should not mean debt, but that’s the reality for so many of us.”
“The airport needs to be a safe place for workers and passengers alike. The Healthy Terminals Act would do that,” Teresa Wright said, a baggage handler. “Our jobs require heavy lifting and many of us suffer from on-the-job injuries. We need healthcare options to take care of ourselves and passengers.”
The airport workers— a majority of whom are immigrant and African American— say they embody Dr. King’s fight for economic, racial and social justice. Airport workers up and down the east coast have made staggering progress over the last decade, including winning the highest mandated minimum wage in the country—$19/hour by 2023—but many of them say thousands have no effective access to quality, affordable health insurance.
“The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the visionary whose memory we honor today, famously said that ‘All Labor Has Dignity’,” said Kevin Brown, 32BJ SEIU Vice President and New Jersey State Director. “The Healthy Terminals Act would make the airport a dignified place to work. Workers and their families are in crisis. Many get into medical debt, or put off treatments and suffer from chronic pain—sometimes caused by on the job injuries. With the Healthy Terminals Act, we change all of that, and invest in the working people who keep the doors open at the three major metropolitan airports.”
Senator Loretta Weinberg, one of the bill sponsors, addressed subcontracted passenger service workers (baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, wheelchair attendants, terminal cleaners) who would reap the benefits of the bill.
“I’m proud to sponsor the Healthy Terminals Act, a bill that would make New Jersey healthier and safer,” Weinberg said, addressing the crowd. “These are the workers at the frontlines who come into direct contact with passengers every day at one of the busiest transit hubs in the world, and it’s unacceptable that they don’t have adequate health protections. This bill would be a sigh of relief to working people and their families who could acquire affordable health insurance, and release themselves from the fear of going into debt simply for taking care of their health.”
“It’s 2020 and airport workers—the hardworking individuals who serve tens of thousands of passengers every single day—don’t have an affordable healthcare option,” Assemblywoman Annette Quijano said. “That’s why we need the Healthy Terminals Act to protect passengers and workers alike. I’m proud to support this bill and keep Newark Liberty a place where travelers can arrive and leave safely.”
“Thousands of subcontracted airport employees are on the frontlines everyday working to ensure that Newark Airport is safe and clean for commuters,” Assemblyman Daniel Benson said. “They deserve to be paid a salary that allows them to afford quality, affordable health care for themselves and their families. I support this bill that will lift thousands out of medical debt and poverty.”
With more than 175,000 members in 11 states and 13,000 members in New Jersey, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.