32BJ SEIU says providing a way for transportation center workers to get quality, affordable health insurance is the union’s 2020 legislative priority
ALBANY, NY— Jordany Bueno Vasquez, a shy LaGuardia Airport wheelchair agent, was at first reluctant to tell state legislators his health care story. But that was before he realized many of his co-workers at New York airports share the same predicament when it comes to affording healthcare.
The health insurance Bueno Vasquez’s employer offers is beyond his means. So he has gone without. And the costs of treating his epilepsy have been piling up.
“I had a seizure at work one day and was rushed by ambulance to the emergency room,” said Bueno Vasquez, 28. “The ambulance bill alone came to $1,000. And the hospital bills, I just kept getting bills and bills.”
Bueno traveled to Albany on Tuesday with dozens of fellow workers at New York transportation hubs to ask lawmakers to address the challenges that workers like them face trying to acquire the quality, affordable health insurance they desperately need while working in service jobs where they have a high degree of interaction with the public.
The workers, who perform vital functions to help some of our most vulnerable family members as they travel, say they deserve the important protections that access to health care can provide.
Kyle Bragg, SEIU 32BJ President, said “this is a pressing issue because many of the workers are in crisis over affording healthcare.” He added that four out of ten Americans say they couldn’t pay for a bill of $400 or more if they had an unexpected medical expense, and the same goes for workers in airport terminals and other major transportation hubs.
That is why the workers and the representatives from 32BJ traveled to Albany to ask lawmakers to vote to pass the landmark Healthy Terminals Act, to provide a benefits supplement to their compensation which thousands of workers at New York’s transportation hubs can use to acquire this health insurance.
The legislation, sponsored and championed by State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman, would apply to workers at the John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport, New York Stewart International Airport, Pennsylvania Station and Grand Central Station.
“One in six workers in this country has medical debt causing financial hardship, which can lead working families into poverty and cripple our communities,” Bragg said. “The New York Healthy Terminals Act will get workers at these vital transportation centers out of this predicament and provide a path to achieving quality, affordable health insurance.”
Workers who went to Albany said that without this help they are forced to make impossible choices.
“I see my doctor every three months,” Bueno Vasquez said. “That is $125 each visit. My epilepsy medication, plus a calcium supplement to beat back lupus, a possible side effect of the medication, costs me $75 discounted. It costs $200 to get medication terrible headaches I get as a side effect of the epilepsy. I also have to pay for blood tests every three months so my doctor can calibrate my epilepsy medication. And I’ve putting off annual MRI and other scans I need, because of the costs.”
Other workers shared with legislators personal stories of crushing debt and struggles to find quality, affordable health insurance in New York.
Tracey Mounter, a JFK wheelchair attendant, said she looks forward to the day when she can have health insurance for herself and her family.
“We’ve been in this fight for a long time and we don’t want to continue putting off doctor visits or holding off on getting medication because we cannot afford it,” said Mounter. “These are the things that my co-workers and I have had to do just to get by.”
Bill sponsors discussed how the proposed law would address the health insurance challenges workers described.
“Our transportation terminal workers interact with people from all over the state, the country, and the world – their health and safety have an impact on every traveler in New York,” Sen. Biaggi (D-Bronx/Westchester) said. “Yet the enormous cost of their employee-offered healthcare is forcing workers to look for benefits elsewhere, or opt out of insurance entirely. The Healthy Terminals Act will give thousands of workers at transportation hubs the ability to acquire healthcare without falling into poverty, and the services they need to live full and healthy lives. It is an honor to carry this bill and fight side by side with the train, bus, and airport workers of New York State and members of 32BJ SEIU. This year we will fight for the passage of the Healthy Terminals Act to give workers access to the healthcare they deserve.”
Assembly Member Hyndman said the new New York Healthy Terminals Act will establish higher minimum standards for pay and benefits—including healthcare, holidays and vacations—at travel hubs across the city.
The bill would establish an employer-paid benefits supplement that has already been proven effective with the Service Contract Act, which currently provides $4.54, with small annual increases. Workers could then use this $4.54 for health insurance or employees working under collectively bargained contracts could negotiate to use this supplement to provide affordable, quality health insurance directly.
“I stand with the members of 32BJ SEIU in their fight for affordable and adequate healthcare insurance,” Assembly Member Hyndman said. “As one of the largest transit hubs in the world, New York needs a well-equipped, healthy workforce to support our local economy. By establishing minimum wage rates to assist with the high costs of healthcare, the New York Healthy Terminals Act would improve retention, lower turnover and create an environment where experienced workers can envision long-term success.”
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