32BJ SEIU airport workers rally at JFK demanding passage of Healthy Terminals Act

Courtesy 32BJ SEIU

Dozens of airport service workers rallied with Councilman Donovan Richards and Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman outside JFK International Airport Thursday demanding the passage of the Healthy Terminals Act, a bill that would provide tens of thousands of workers with quality, affordable health insurance.

Honoring the death of Leland Jordan, a baggage handler who died in April after contracting COVID-19, lawmakers dedicated the legislation in his name and called for swift passage.

“My dad was a giving man who loved helping his fellow workers,” Jordan’s daughter Dazilia Anthony said. “I know he would have wanted us to continue fighting so that all airport workers have peace of mind that they can go to the doctor when they get sick.”

Anthony also spoke of the heartache of losing her father while still having to deal with the hospital bills that his unaffordable health insurance did not cover.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, essential airport workers have risked their lives simply by coming into work to make a living,” Hyndman said. “So today, we’re honoring Leland Jordan, a baggage handler who was dedicated to passing the HTA and making the airport a better place to work. New York cannot wait any longer to pass this bill. Thousands lack the most important protection to keep themselves and passengers safe: health care. I urge my colleagues to vote to pass this bill so thousands of people and their families can take proper care of themselves.”

The HTA would require employers at New York airports to compensate workers with a $4.54 benefits supplement that can be used to acquire health insurance. Many essential workers are immigrants and people of color who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control note that the lack of access to health insurance is one of the factors behind the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on minority communities. When compared to whites, Hispanics are almost three times more likely to be uninsured, and African-Americans are almost twice as likely.

“Essential airport workers have been putting their lives on the line every day, securing terminals, sanitizing bathrooms and ensuring that passengers are safe,” 32BJ SEIU Vice President Rob Hill said. “Workers must not be left behind as travelers once again move through the airports during the pandemic. The workers who check tickets, handle baggage, push wheelchairs and clean and sanitize planes are at risk because at the airport the world comes to them.”

Vladimir Clairjeune was a baggage handler at JFK for more than 11 years before he was laid off in April.

“Millions of passengers rely on frontline airport workers every year for service and safety,” he said. “Without us, the airport couldn’t keep their doors open. We need the dignity and respect we deserve — healthcare — so we can survive.” 

Clairjeune’s coworker, Freddy Briosco, chooses between rent and medication for his hypertension every month.

“I am not alone. Thousands of people who work here have to make the same choice, and it’s no way to live,” Briosco said. “I beg New York to pass the Healthy Terminals Act now so I can live with dignity.”

Councilman Donovan Richards, who is leading the race to become the next Queens borough president, spoke of the airport workers, many of them constituents living in neighborhoods that surround the sprawling airport.

“The economy in this state, in this city, would not run if not for the people who are actually the working folk doing everything to make sure this airport in this city flourishes,” Richards said.

The legislation would enable 25,000 essential airport workers to access health insurance.