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Screenshot of 32BJ SEIU Zoom rally for Healthy Terminals Act

New York lawmakers and 32BJ SEIU honored the seven 32BJ members who died due to the coronavirus and called for the passage of the Healthy Terminals Act on Wednesday, May 27.

State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, who sponsors the bill in the Senate (S6266C), Queens Assembly member Alicia Hyndman, who sponsors it in the Assembly (A8142D), Queens Senator Leroy Comrie, and Assembly member Carmen De La Rosa, joined 32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg, Vice President Rob Hill and other members on a Zoom rally to demand the passage of the bill.

The Healthy Terminals Act would provide access to quality, affordable insurance for tens of thousands of airport workers during the COVID-19 crisis by requiring employers at New York airports to compensate workers with a $4.54 benefits supplement that can be used to acquire health insurance.

During the Zoom call, Dazilia Anthony, the daughter of a beloved 32BJ SEIU member, Leland Jordan, spoke about her father — a baggage handler at John F. Kennedy Airport who was originally from Guyana. Anthony said Jordan died in April after contracting the coronavirus.

She spoke about the heartache of losing her father, while still having to deal with the hospital bills that his unaffordable health insurance didn’t cover.

“My dad was a giving man who loved helping his fellow workers.” Anthony said, who remembered hearing stories about how hard her father fought for wage increases and health care for his coworkers. “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.”

Biaggi told Anthony the Healthy Terminals Act would add her father’s name to the bill in honor of his work.

“The pandemic has made it tragically clear why we need the Healthy Terminals Act and I am imploring my colleagues to pass it,” said  Biaggi, who added that 118 airport workers have passed away due to COVID-19.

“The Senate has the power to move this bill. There is nothing to fear. Our biggest and greatest fear should be the loss of more life,” Biaggi said. “All that we are asking is to add a supplement of $4.54 an hour, per employee so that each airport worker can access health insurance. Those are crumbs compared to the profits that the airlines make. My message to the airlines is this, you should be ashamed of yourselves not to provide protection for the people who break their backs for you every day. Those who are carrying the bags, pushing your wheelchairs, and making sure that your airlines are successful. Without them you are nothing. This is the least you can do.”

The bill was introduced a year ago and is currently in the Senate’s Labor Committee.

“The bottom line is this, there is no financial impact to state government. It doesn’t hit the budget. This is the airline industry, who received over $20 billion in a bailout. They are not canceling flights, folks,” said Hyndman. “This pandemic has shown us that still this country puts profits over people. That’s the fact. The fact is that the men and women who keep our airports moving are being overlooked. We can pass the bill in the next couple of days, it can be done. We have enough folks on both sides to get this done. There should be no long jam in moving this forward.”

Vladimir Clairjeune, a Passenger Services Representative at JFK Airport for 11 years, until he was laid off in April, said the pandemic has “exposed deep divides in our society.” Clairjeune pointed out that many airport workers are people of color, who have been disproportionately impacted by the health crisis.

The CDC reports that, among a number of factors, the lack of access to health insurance is one factor behind the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on communities of color. When compared to white people, Hispanics are almost three times as likely to be uninsured, and African Americans are almost twice as likely. According to the CDC, in all age groups, black people were more likely than white people to report not being able to see a doctor in the past year because of cost.

“Essential airport workers have been putting their lives on the line every day, securing terminals, sanitizing bathrooms, and ensuring that passengers are safe,” said Bragg. “While they’ve been taking care of others, they and those close to them are getting sick and dying. These are mostly workers of color who live in some of NYC’s hardest hit neighborhoods. Many are struggling without the basic fundamental right of health care. The New York Legislature has the opportunity to pass the Healthy Terminals Act now, so that airport workers can get the health care they need.”

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