Passed by the state legislature in July, the bill requires New York’s airports to compensate employees with a benefits supplement of at least $4.54, which can be used to acquire health insurance.
Workers who are covered by collectively bargained contracts can also negotiate to use the supplement to provide health insurance directly.
Currently, 25,000 airport workers are limited to employer-provided health plans, which often have high premiums, copays and deductibles, forcing many to forgo coverage.
“This is an issue of racial justice,” said 32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg. “Right now, thousands of Black and brown frontline airport workers do not have health care in the midst of a global pandemic.
“COVID-19 cases are going up and many New Yorkers are about to take flight at this airport to unite with loved ones,” he added. “Workers do this job without very much protection.”
Rojelio Brown, a cabin cleaner at LaGuardia Airport, said he works in tight spaces while cleaning and sanitizing planes. With reduced hours, he said it’s hard to keep up financially with health care plans.
“Affordable health care would mean I could go to the doctor and take care of myself,” he said. “With the holidays coming up, this job will only get riskier.”
Cabin cleaners like Brown, as well as baggage handlers, security officers, customer assistance employees, skycaps and other subcontracted airport workers, would be included in the Healthy Terminals Act.
More than a dozen city and state elected officials attended last week’s rally, including comptroller and mayoral candidate Scott Stringer.
“You risk your lives keeping the city going, keeping the airports going, you have always played that role,” he told airport workers. “You have been cast aside by the executives who reaped hundreds of millions of dollars because of the work you’re doing. Well, we’ve got to level this playing field.”
Workers and elected officials noted that the call for the governor to sign the legislation comes after the airline industry received a $50 billion bailout through the CARES Act.
Councilman Donovan Richards, the next Queens borough president, said at the rally that he’s thankful for all of the essential workers for their work during the pandemic.
“Essential airport workers in Queens continue to put their lives on the line to protect travelers,” he said. “We need to keep airport workers safe too by passing the Healthy Terminals Act so that workers don’t have to choose between paying rent and paying for health care.”