Novel CoronaVirus outbreak highlights the need to give frontline airport workers quality, affordable health insurance, elected leaders say
QUEENS, NY—As 32BJ SEIU airport member leaders met near LaGuardia airport today to discuss their fight for healthcare, city and state elected leaders held a tele-news conference to talk about the urgent need to pass the Healthy Terminals Act (HTA) to protect them as concerns about the spread of COVID-19 widen.
State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, one of the sponsors of HTA (S6266/A8142), said the enormous cost of most employer-provided health insurance is forcing many airport workers to opt out of insurance entirely, and pushing them to make impossible choices on a daily basis.
“The novel CoronaVirus outbreak underscores how, every day, airport workers interact with countless people all over the state, the country and the world, and their health has an impact on every single traveler they come into contact with,” Biaggi said. “They are the critical infrastructure of our airport and of our city. This is why [HTA] is so important.”
Airport workers–including passenger service workers like wheelchair attendants, security, cleaners and passenger service representatives–have been lobbying Albany lawmakers to pass the proposed landmark HTA legislation, which is sponsored by Alicia Hyndman in the New York State Assembly.
32BJ SEIU Vice President Rob Hill said there is no better time than now to ensure airport workers have access to quality, affordable health insurance.
“One of the protocols of the CDC is, if you feel sick, is to see a doctor. Well you can’t do that if you don’t have a doctor and you don’t have a health insurance,” Hill said. “There’s a huge crisis here, but it’s a crisis that’s actually been around for quite a while. the crisis is that tens of thousands of these workers, probably the largest work site in the city, are working without health insurance.”
“One of the best way to protect ourselves is to stay home and to wash our hands but a lot of us cannot afford to stay home,” LaGuardia Airport wheelchair attendant Jordany Bueno said. “Airport workers need health insurance they can afford so we don’t want to have to choose between coming to work and having to pay our medical bills, or go into debt. Many of us are in debt and a lot of us are working with injuries, all types of injuries.”
HTA will require employers at New York airports to provide workers, including sub-contracted passenger services workers, with a $4.54 benefits supplement that workers can use to acquire insurance.
“If you make sure that your workers got healthcare, they can go get tested or treated and not have to worry about cost,” Hyndman said. “When airport workers are protected, passengers are protected. The airlines should be in front of this, and not behind.”
Airport workers currently struggle with employer-provided health plans that have high premiums, high co-pays and high deductibles. Due to prohibitive costs, many workers 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 like the CoronaVirus outbreaks happen.
“New York is a gateway for the entire world and we need to do everything to keep these workers safe,” New York State Senator John Liu said. “In the midst of this escalating COVID-19 crisis, this points us to the need to pass Healthy Terminals Act. Let’s just get it done because these workers need the healthcare.”
“This crisis has highlighted why we need to pass this important bill now,” Assembly Member Aravella Simotas said. “Our airport workers are on the frontlines; they are paid to interface with people, to make sure that they are comfortable and that they can move around airports and get to where they need to go. The least we can do is to make sure that we’re taking care of them.”
New York City Council Member Justin Brannan is planning to introduce a resolution in the City Council in support of airport workers’ quest:
“You can give them all the gloves and masks and hand sanitizers in the world but the real problem is that thousands and thousands of frontline airport workers don’t have health insurance,” said Brannan. “We are going to run into a lot of problems when workers are not going to doctors to get tested because they can’t afford to.”
With 175,000 members in 11 states, including 9,000 airport workers in New York and New Jersey, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country