While the U.S. Senate fails to protect essential workers in stimulus, New York passes ‘Healthy Terminals Act’ to Bring Health Care to as many as 25,000 Essential Frontline Workers
NY NAACP Prez Hazel Dukes, Senator Biaggi, Assembly Member Hyndman Join 32BJ airport workers at celebration rally
What: Celebration rally for passage of Healthy Terminals Act in the NYS Legislature, which would give access to healthcare to as many as 25,000 airport workers.
Who: NY NAACP President Hazel Dukes, Senators Alessandra Biaggi, Kevin Thomas, Jessica Ramos, Roxanne Persaud; Assembly Members Roxanne Persaud, Aravella Simotas, David Weprin, Taylor Darling, Stacey Pfeffer Amato; 32BJ President Kyle Bragg and uninsured or underinsured airport workers who have been devastated by COVID-19 pandemic. *Spanish speakers will be available.
When: Wednesday, July 29 at 12:30PM
Where: JFK Airport, Terminal 5 Bus Stop at the Triangle
Visuals: Scores of essential airport workers wearing purple, with signs, chanting.
(New York, NY) The New York State Legislature is on the verge of making history with first-in-the-nation policy, the Healthy Terminals Act (HTA), which, if signed by Governor Cuomo, would provide life-saving health care benefits to airport workers, including predominantly Black and immigrant subcontracted airline workers. Essential workers—including 32BJ airport workers—have gotten sick and died from COVID-19 and others struggle with thousands in medical bills, while the federal government fails to pass protections for frontline workers. For the first time since the start of the pandemic, frontline airport workers have cause for celebration and will come together to celebrate their hard-fought victory on Wednesday, July 29 at JFK International Airport.
“I know my father is smiling down on us today,” said Dazilia Anthony, the daughter of Leland Jordan, a beloved 32BJ member and baggage handler from JFK, who passed away last April from COVID-19. “He spent half his salary on paying for health insurance. He worked so hard to pass the Healthy Terminals Act, because he wanted his fellow airport workers to be able go to the doctor when they got sick. He would be celebrating with us now.”
“Workers of color have kept this country together throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, even without the basic protection of adequate healthcare,” said Vladimir Clairjeune, a Haitian American JFK security officer who is currently laid off. “This is a victory in the much larger fight for racial and economic justice. In our corner of the world, we have shown we can make a difference for the thousands of Black, Latino, and immigrant workers who make up the fabric of our airports.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as previous scares like Ebola and SARS, only exposed what workers in major transportation hubs have always known—they are on the frontlines of any health crisis.
Airport workers are currently exposed to a hodge-podge of employer-provided health plans, including many that won’t even qualify as health insurance, with sky high premiums, co-pays and deductibles. Many often choose to go without health insurance.
“Thousands of sub-contracted airport workers from all backgrounds have fought for years to transform these low-wage jobs into family sustaining jobs with good benefits that strengthen our communities and economy,” said 32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg. “Essential airport workers secure terminals, sanitize planes, keep passengers safe and our economy running. They are predominantly Black and immigrant workers who have been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, all the while dealing with systemic racism that impacts every aspect of their lives. The New York State Legislature, especially bill sponsors State Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman, have set an example for the nation to follow with this responsible and moral policy to workers and passengers, both healthy and safe. We look forward to Governor Cuomo signing the bill, which could be the nation’s farthest-reaching policy to impact the health and well-being of essential workers of color.”
Just as the U.S. Senate falters on introducing a comprehensive stimulus to help essential frontline workers with hazard pay, PPE and other protections, the New York State Legislature has refused to leave workers of color behind. This is not the first time New York airport workers have led the way for historic improvements in the face of adversity. In 2011, as many as 10,000 sub-contracted workers at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark International airport mounted one of the most successful union organizing campaigns for fair wages and union rights since the creation of the Fight for $15. Since then, 32BJ SEIU members at New York and New Jersey airports have been at forefront in the fight for dignity and respect on the job and the professionalization of vital services at the region’s airports.
Eventually, these workers went on to win the nation’s highest mandated minimum wage of $19 an hour by 2023. However, their compensation did not include quality, affordable health insurance.
“As essential workers, we know we can be exposed to all kinds of illnesses, whether or not there’s a pandemic,” said Floyd Adonis a laid off baggage handler from JFK who owes over $14,000 after being hospitalized three times this year with a heart condition. “People need healthcare every day. As frontline workers, we need to be protected not just for ourselves, but for the passengers we come into contact with.”
The landmark Healthy Terminals Act comes in the midst of the airline industry receiving a $30 billion taxpayer bailout from the CARES Act with billions more expected. The act will require employers at New York airports to compensate workers, including sub-contracted passenger services workers, at least 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 or employees working under collectively bargained contracts could negotiate to use this supplement to provide affordable, quality health insurance directly.
Now that the HTA has passed both the State Senate and Assembly, the bill will await Governor Cuomo’s signature to pass into law.
“When Governor Cuomo signs this bill, it will change our lives and give us the protection we need to do our jobs, said Jordany Bueno a JFK wheelchair attendant for eight years who is currently laid off. “I have epilepsy, which is very expensive since I don’t have health insurance. I’m looking forward to going back to work and helping the passengers, but I’ve been worried. We may have masks and gloves, but the most important protection is health care.”
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.