New York, NY – Dozens of 32BJ SEIU airport workers may not have been able to take their health concerns to the streets because of the coronavirus this week — but they still made their voices heard during a teleconference to state and city officials when it came to fighting for the Healthy Terminals [HTA] Act on Thursday.
The HTA, co-sponsored by State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx) and Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens), seeks to require employers at New York airports to compensate workers, including sub-contracted passenger services workers, with a $4.54 benefits supplement that could be used to acquire health insurance.
The current employer-provided health plans have high premiums, high co-pays and high deductibles resulting in many workers choosing to go without health insurance, according to 32BJ SEIU.
The HTA bill, introduced in May 2019, has 34 co-sponsorships in the New York State Senate, but because it has been amended three times, it is now going through both the Assembly and Senate’s Labor committees.
“This year, I was able to get almost every member of the Democratic Conference to sign on,” Biaggi said this week. “I can’t see why anyone wouldn’t want this bill because it is common sense and aligns with the values we allege to care about.”
Biaggi has requested the HTA bill come out of committee and is currently waiting on the chair to move it on the calendar for a vote. If it passes through both the Senate and Assembly, it would to be delivered to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for his signature.
Similar to Biaggi, Hyndman was able to get support from her Democratic colleagues in the New York State Assembly.
“There are thousands of bills in the docket and each bill requires a campaign in-and-of-itself,” said Biaggi. “This bill has risen to the level of urgency because of what we are dealing with at the moment [with the coronavirus].”
Unfortunately, as the virus continues to spread, there has been service cuts at airports resulting in airport workers being laid off, having hours cut or doing work outside what they have been hired — so they don’t lose their jobs.
“There are wheelchair attendants doing cleaning work or security so that they won’t be laid off,” 32BJ SEIU Vice President Rob Hill said. “We are trying to help extend sick days and unemployment insurance.”
32BJ SEIU is doing what it can to minimize the situation by reaching out to all stakeholders like contractors and the airlines to prevent further lay offs, according to Hill.
“We would much rather have everyone together chanting 32BJ than doing this the way that we are on a teleconference — but that is the urgency of the situation we are in,” Hill added. “There is an absolute need to get this legislation passed. This will happen again. The next time, one of these epidemics could happen a year from now or two years from now. We could make some good come from this by making the largest workplace in the city [and] airport workers have some health coverage.”