ALBANY — A new law enacted on New Year’s Eve gives airport workers in the Empire State access to much-needed health care benefits during the coronavirus crisis.
Gov. Cuomo signed the long-stalled Healthy terminals Act on Thursday, a measure proponents and union leaders say will provide as many as 12,000 cabin and terminal cleaners, baggage handlers, security officers, wheelchair attendants and subcontracted workers at New York airports with access to affordable, quality health insurance.
Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D- Bronx), the bill’s sponsor, said the law is dedicated to the memory of Leland Jordan, a baggage handler at JFK Airport, who was one of the first airport workers in the state to die from COVID-19.
“This is a victory for all New Yorkers as we take an integral step to protect some of our most vulnerable workers in the wake of the global pandemic,” Biaggi said. “Long before COVID, mostly Black, brown, and immigrant airport workers have served this state on the frontlines without access to the healthcare they need to keep themselves and their families safe.
“With the signing of (this bill), these essential workers will finally have access to affordable healthcare coverage,” she added.
The measure requires employers at airports to compensate workers at least a $4.54 benefit supplement that they can use to acquire desperately needed health insurance.
The predominantly Black and immigrant workers, many of whom unionized under 32BJ SEIU less than a decade ago, have been on the front lines of the COVID pandemic for the past year, union officials said.
Many of the workers who fought for the passage of the bill have dealt with health issues or even contracted the virus on the job, like Sumintra Ramkissoon, a security officer at Kennedy Airport.
“I still have hospital bills coming in from when I had COVID-19,” Ramkissoon said. “It’s hard for people working at the airport to pay for medical bills when we don’t get affordable or reliable healthcare from our jobs, especially when we have reduced hours and furloughs. But now we have a chance at healthcare that we can rely on.”
The law will initially apply to 6,000 workers at LaGuardia Airport and Kennedy and will be implemented in phases, with those who have worked through the COVID-19 pandemic this year receiving the supplement first, in July 2021.
SEIU 32BJ President Kyle Bragg thanked Biaggi, Assembly member Alicia Hyndman (D- Queens), and Cuomo for passing and signing the measure amid the ongoing pandemic.
“Essential, front line airport workers will breathe a deep sigh of relief knowing that real healthcare is an option soon,” Bragg said. “Adding a healthcare benefit supplement to airport jobs creates thousands of good, sustainable jobs that uplift everyone. Airport workers have risked their lives for the public during this unstoppable pandemic, and nothing is more important than protecting them.”
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