New York, NY – Many former and current airport workers, mostly subcontracted employees, started off the New Year with great news: Governor Andrew Cuomo finally signed the long-fought for Healthy Terminals Act into law. The measure will help provide current and future personnel with healthcare coverage.
“I thank Governor Cuomo for raising standards for airport workers in these difficult times, and I thank the bill sponsors Senator Biaggi and Assemblywoman Hyndman for fighting tirelessly for this bill,” 32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg said after the signing. “Essential, front-line airport workers will breathe a deep sigh of relief, knowing that real healthcare is an option soon.”
Current in-house airport workers and subcontracted employees at LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports who worked through the pandemic and include wheelchair agents, passenger service representatives, cabin cleaners, terminal cleaners, baggage claim attendants and security officers, will be the first to receive the benefit supplement in July 2021. Remaining workers will obtain their assistance in a later phase.
“This is a victory for workers who are predominantly people of color or immigrants, who just a few years ago were trapped in jobs of poverty making $7/hr. with no benefits, no healthcare, no paid days off and over the last few years, they managed to organize themselves into a union and raise their wage to more than double,” 32BJ SEIU Vice-President Rob Hill declared. “Now, they will get the healthcare that they deserve. It’s huge! They are finally going to get what they deserve. These jobs are on their way to becoming decent jobs.”
The state will now mandate an additional $4.54/hr. in pay for the workers, so they will have a decent healthcare plan. The airports offered employees a health plan before, but it was so expensive workers optioned out of it.
“A full-time JFK Airport wheelchair agent earns $31,200 for 2,080 hours of work each year at New York’s hourly minimum wage of $15 per hour. Her employer’s health insurance has a monthly premium that totals $2,964 per year, with a $3,000 deductible,” a 32BJ SEIU spokeswoman said. “If she experiences a serious illness or has to go to the emergency room, she could easily pay 20-percent of her annual pre-tax income on premium contributions and deductibles.”
In the next few months, members of the union will collectively bargain for an affordable healthcare fund. For those who are not in a union, their employer will have to get a fund that is a sustainable healthcare plan, Hill added.
“For the first time, they will get the healthcare they deserve,” he said. “This will apply to both in-house and subcontracted workers, but most of the workers happen to be subcontracted.”
The Healthy Terminals Act will apply to some 12,000 airport workers.
“I’m so happy for this law that Cuomo signed,” said Sumintra Ramkissoon, a furloughed JFK security officer who fought for the bill for a year-and-a-half. “The company I worked for, I had to pay $250 a month, plus the ambulance fee, then I had to pay for an emergency room fee, I had to pay for the doctor’s visit, I had to pay a copay. All these copays added up. My insurance was very high.”
Ramkissoon was making $14 an hour. She has diabetes and congestive heart failure and has sick family members with Marfan Syndrome, a disease that affects the heart, eyes, blood vessels and skeleton.
Unfortunately, Ramkissoon was working during the early stages of the pandemic without a mask. She caught the virus in March as a result. Her husband also contracted the virus and later died.
“I had diarrhea, cough, fever and my whole body was in pain,” said Ramkissoon. “I probably lost 50 lbs. within that week.”
After losing her husband, who was taking care of her when she contracted the virus before she had to go to a hospital, Ramkissoon had to stay clear of her 34-year-old daughter.
“I have to see a therapist,” said Ramkissoon, who is on Medicaid.
After getting sick and mourning her husband, her company put her on leave. Nevertheless, Ramkissoon hopes with the recent $16 billion in aid to bailout airports that she will be back on the job, but this time with better health benefits.
Rojelio Brown is a freight loader at JFK and a lavatory cleaner and cabin cleaner at LaGuardia, whose wife, Tyra, relies on his health insurance for diabetes medication.
“This was really needed, really needed,” said Brown. “I’m paying for my own medical right now. I’m paying $500 a month.”
Brown only works part-time at both jobs despite being a JFK employee on-and-off for 30 years and working at LaGuardia for 15 years. As a result, he would make too much money to get unemployment or any form of assistance.
“The lavatory is the waste of the plane,” said Brown, who worked during the pandemic with fewer colleagues for help. “You have to be in a truck to pump in this blue water to clean it out. You must always prepare, or there is always the possibility of the hose popping out. That is very dangerous.”
Before the HTA was signed, Brown worried about paying for his life insurance, car expenses, bills and rent.
“I have high blood pressure and gout,” said Brown. “I couldn’t even begin to explain what this bill means to me. It just means a whole lot.”