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‘They Need It Now’ - 32BJ SEIU Calls On Governor Cuomo To Sign Healthy Terminals Act

Published Thursday, November 19, 2020
by Steve Wishnia/
‘They Need It Now’ - 32BJ SEIU Calls On Governor Cuomo To Sign Healthy Terminals Act

(NEW YORK CITY) - Standing on circles chalked six feet apart, Members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 32BJ and supporters rallied at LaGuardia Airport on Tuesday (November 17th) to urge Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign a Bill that would require airport employers to subsidize Workers’ health insurance.

The Bill, the Healthy Terminals Act, was passed by the state Legislature in July.  It would modify the state’s Prevailing Wage Law to have employers at LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy, and Stewart Airport outside Newburgh give Workers at least $4.54 an hour to cover the cost of buying health insurance.

32BJ projects that it would enable some 25,000 people who work for airline subcontractors, such as Cleaners, Baggage Handlers, Security Officers and Customer Assistance Representatives to get coverage.

“They ‘need it now,’” 32BJ President Kyle Bragg told the crowd. “In the ‘midst of a pandemic, this is an issue of justice.’  ‘This is an issue of racial justice.’” 

Bragg said that even if a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus is developed, the subcontractors’ Workers, who are mostly Black, Latino and Immigrant, might not be able to afford it without health coverage.

The cost of providing that coverage, he added, would be less than 1% of the $50 billion in aid the airlines received under the CARES Act, the Federal Relief Package enacted last March.

32BJ has lost more than 100 Members to the virus, Vice President Rob Hill said.

“The message ‘is very simple,’” declared State Senator Alessandra Biaggi (Democrat-Bronx), the Bill’s lead Senate sponsor. “We are ‘relying on, and we (will be) excited to see, Governor Cuomo sign the Healthy Terminals Act into law.’”

The Bill passed both the Senate and the Assembly by majorities large enough to override a veto, but it has drawn opposition from the Queens Chamber of Commerce and the Business Council of New York State, who argue that it’s a government mandate that will bankrupt airlines.

Similar legislation has been introduced in New Jersey.  It would set the minimum wage for Workers at Newark Liberty International Airport at $13 an hour, $2 an hour above the state’s $11 minimum, beginning in September 2021, and it would rise to $19 in 2025.  It would also include the $4.54-an-hour subsidy for health insurance, beginning in September 2021.  About one-third of the about 10,000 Workers it would affect are now uninsured, according to 32BJ.

The New Jersey Senate Labor Committee approved the Bill in August, but the Assembly has not taken any action since it was introduced in February.

Airport subcontractors sometimes offer Workers the opportunity to buy health insurance, Vladimir Clairjune, a Passenger Service Representative at JFK, told LaborPress after the rally, but “if they do offer it, it’s not very good.”

Premiums, deductibles and co-payments are all unaffordably high, a 32BJ spokesperson said.

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