(ALBANY NY) – As many as 25,000 airport workers, including predominantly Black and immigrant wheelchair attendants, security officers, cabin and terminal cleaners, and other sub-contracted airport workers at JFK and LaGuardia Airports are a signature from the Governor away from winning life-saving health care benefits. After a long, hard-fought campaign, the New York State Legislature passed the trailblazing Healthy Terminals Act (HTA) on Wednesday that now awaits Governor Cuomo’s signature.
“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.”
“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.”
“The passage of the Healthy Terminals Act is fueled by the tireless organizing and strength of essential airport workers, labor advocates, immigrants, and working families. Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman and I introduced this bill well before the arrival of COVID-19, because it should not take a pandemic for us to value workers’ lives and fulfill their right to healthcare,” said Senate Bill Sponsor Alessandra Biaggi (D – Bronx, Westchester). “By enacting the Healthy Terminals Act, we can provide tens of thousands of airport workers, including those who work for subcontractors, with the ability to purchase health insurance without falling into poverty. I extend my deepest gratitude to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman, and 32BJ SEIU for their partnership to move this bill forward.”
“Our state needs a healthy workforce so people can do their best serving the traveling public. Front line airport workers have risked their lives by showing up to work during COVID-19 and other public health crises because they could not afford to stay home. Nothing is more important than protecting the people whose job it is to protect us, and adequate, affordable health insurance is their first line of defense. I am proud to stand with airport workers in their fight for healthcare. I commend the Speaker and my colleagues in the Assembly for doing the right thing and passing the Healthy Terminals Act. I look forward to working with the Governor to ensure our essential airport workers are adequately protected and have the means to attain good healthcare,” said Assembly Bill Sponsor Alicia Hyndman (D – Queens).
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.
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. And the risks that come with working in some of the most heavily trafficked airports in the world without health insurance are heightened when health scares happen.
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.
“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 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.