Scores of airport workers and elected leaders rallied Tuesday for better healthcare benefits at LaGuardia Airport ahead of the busy Thanksgiving travel season.
Leaders of the Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) asked Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign the “Healthy Terminals Act” (HTA) into law. Some union members held held empty Thanksgiving platters and signs saying “Thank Me with Healthcare” and “Give Thanks, Give Healthcare.” Members say health benefits will cost them much of what they earn each month without state intervention.
The New York legislature passed the Health Terminals Act in July of this year and it would provide 25,000 workers with access to affordable, quality health insurance, leaders say. Leaders say the Thanksgiving holiday could fill New York’s airports in the coming days as COVID-19 cases are on the rise in New York and in many parts of the country.
While travelers make their way to friends and families, essential airport service workers struggle to protect themselves, leaders claimed.
If signed into law, the bill would provide health insurance to cabin and terminal cleaners, baggage handlers, security officers, customer assistance employees, skycaps and other subcontracted airport workers.
“This is an issue of racial justice,” said 32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg to a socially distanced crowd. “Right now, thousands of Black and Brown frontline airport workers do not have health care in the midst of a global pandemic. The bill, which airport workers pushed to pass in both chambers in the summer, would keep workers and the public safe by putting affordable health care within reach for frontline airport workers. COVID-19 cases are going up and many New Yorkers are about to take flight at this airport to unite with loved ones for Thanksgiving. Workers do this job without very much protection. They do it without healthcare.”
Essential workers, including 32BJ airport workers, have gotten sick and died from COVID-19 while others struggle with managing thousands of dollars in medical bills, Bragg said.
Numerous elected officials joined the chorus calling for passage of the legislation.
Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman, a sponsor of the bill, said it was incumbent upon them to provide health insurance for people who can’t ill afford to pay for it.
“Thank you all 25,000 of you for being out on the front lines during the pandemic,” Hoylman said. “Thank you for risking your lives, your families lives and your health during COVID-19. And you know how we repay you for that, we passed the Healthy Terminals Act.”
Comptroller Scott Stringer said that while the city recovers, “we will not leave our airport workers behind.”
“The Healthy Terminals Act gives you the opportunity to take care of your family to make sure that there is safety in the household,” Stringer said. “You risk your lives keeping the city going, keeping the airports going. You have always played that role. But time and time again you have faced discrimination. You have been cast aside by the executives who reap hundreds of millions of dollars because of the work you’re doing. Well, we’ve got to level this playing field.”
“Thanksgiving is a special holiday,” said Gale Brewer, Manhattan borough president, who was joined on stage by Queens Borough President-elect Donovan Richards. “But it’s only a special holiday when 32BJ gets the Healthy Terminals Act. We know that the union fights and that’s what we are going to do with you because you are essential workers and you need to be provided with quality healthcare. I want to thank airport workers, just like so many other workers — you have been on the front lines our nation’s airports forever.”
Teresa Peralta, a terminal cleaner at JFK, said her job is not safe.
“I have been on the front lines every day that I wasn’t sick with COVID,” said Peralta. “It’s my job to protect passengers and everyone who works here by keeping the terminal clean during the pandemic. When you have thousands of workers who can’t afford to go to the doctor working together, it’s not a safe place.”
The landmark Healthy Terminals Act comes as the airline industry received a $50 billion taxpayer bailout through the CARES Act, with billions more expected. The HTA will require employers at New York airports to compensate workers, including sub-contracted passenger services workers, with a benefits supplement of at least $4.54 an hour that they can use to acquire the quality health insurance.
This story originally appeared on amny.com.