Queens, New York – Dozens of airport workers that are members of 32BJ SEIU were in a social distancing outdoor rally in the simmering heat at the Katch Astoria Gastropub & Bar in Queens on Thursday, to advocate for the Healthy Terminals Act.
Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, the union lost over 130 of its members, 11 of which were airport workers, according to Hill.
“We’ve lost a lot of members at 32BJ,” Vice-President Rob Hill said.
If the Healthy Terminals were to pass the New York State Legislature, it would provide access to quality and affordable insurance for tens of thousands of airport workers, according to the union.
“We are here to demand justice for airport workers,” said Hill. “Airport workers are the frontline essential workers in this fight. They were hit — as everybody knows when the virus came from Europe through the airports. They were the first people hit during the pandemic when nobody knew whether you should be wearing masks or not, or what the protocols were. They were hit incredibly hard by this virus, massive layoffs and long before this happened airport workers did not have healthcare.”
Coronavirus is not the first pandemic that airport workers have had to face.
“We had Ebola, we had SARS and all these other things, but nobody ever thinks that these essential workers, people that we say are so important to us deserve the basics of healthcare,” said Hill. “We are also in the moment now that we say Black Lives Matter, and airport workers are mostly people of color for the most part and they don’t have healthcare.”
Hill doesn’t care for the lip service from corporations and the airlines that say they supposedly care about the Black Lives Matter movement and police reform, but won’t give their workers healthcare.
“Why don’t you give your workers the basics of what they need to do their job,” said Hill. “We know that the people being affected by this the most are the essential workers on the frontline who are black and brown people, partly because they are working on the frontline without healthcare and therefore are putting themselves in harm’s way.”
These airport workers cannot treat their pre-existing conditions like other people can without healthcare and as a result, they are more at risk to die from the virus, according to Hill.
“It’s incredibly unjust at 7 o’clock to cheer for healthcare workers, for airport workers, the doormen, the cleaners, the delivery people, everybody — but then these big corporations are demanding a billion dollars in bailouts and don’t think [workers] deserve the basics of healthcare to do their job on the front lines,” said Hill. “We know the airlines asked for $20 billion and got it.”
The airline industry is asking the federal government for more bailout money but it hasn’t included a line item that would take into consideration the healthcare of 40,000 airport workers in the funds that they are requesting, according to Hill.
Baggage handler Floyd Adonis was one of the many airport workers to contract the Coronavirus.
“This past February, I was feeling pain in my chest,” said Adonis, who later went to the hospital. “They tried to give me medicine, but I didn’t have any health insurance so I went home to try to wait it off.”
Adonis was still sick for another two days and decided to go back to the hospital. After he left, he received a $14,000 bill.
“I don’t know how I’m going to pay it!” said Adonis, who later sustained a foot injury, but doesn’t want to go to the hospital and incur another bill. “There are many of us who don’t have healthcare insurance and we come to work when we don’t feel well. It is important to me that we pass the Health Care Terminal Act. When you don’t have health insurance you try to wait it off, but I choose to take care of myself.”
Sumintra Ramkisson, a four-year airport security officer, was too sick to take care of herself after contracting the virus. She had to rely on her husband. Stevenson Ramkisson became infected while aiding his wife and later died.
“I hope that we get the Terminal Act passed. We need it now!” Sumintra Ramkisson said at the rally. It was the first time in weeks since her husband died that she ventured outside. “In March, I got the coronavirus. I stayed home for 10 days thinking everything was going to be okay because I thought I just had high-blood sugar or whatever. I didn’t know I had a breathing problem.”
Ramkisson ended up in the hospital when she started to get pneumonia and later tested positive for the coronavirus.
“My husband had always wanted me to fight to get healthcare. This is something you have to do,” Ramkisson said. “We want the same healthcare that the CEOs are getting.”
Ramkisson said she was left alone in a room when she went to the hospital seeking help. Ultimately, she returned home where her husband cared for her instead.
“He took such good care of me, but he got the coronavirus,” said Ramkisson. “He had a pre-existing condition.”
The healthcare that Ramkisson and her husband fought for covered only their hospital bills, but once she got home she received an $800 bill for the ambulance and she had to pay and additional $88 for a single prescription medication.
“I had to pay $100 up front just to get the ambulance to take me to the hospital,” said Ramkisson. “This is during a pandemic!”
Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens) and State Senator Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx) are co-sponsoring the Healthy Terminals Act.
“Myself and Assemblywoman Hyndman introduced the bill last year because we recognized the importance of healthcare even before a pandemic,” said Biaggi. “Airport workers are on the frontline and they are the critical infrastructure of this city. The make our airports run and work. Without them, our city does not function. It’s clear to us that healthcare is a basic human right.”