Airport workers: we need affordable healthcare for Thanksgiving

Stephon Johnson | 11/19/2020, midnight
Frontline airport workers and elected officials took to LaGuardia Airport on Tuesday, Nov. 17, pushing for New York State Gov. ...
Airport

Frontline airport workers and elected officials took to LaGuardia Airport on Tuesday, Nov. 17, pushing for New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo to do right by them.

Holding signs that read “Thank Me with Healthcare” and “Give Thanks, Give Healthcare,” cabin and terminal cleaners, security officers, baggage handlers, customer assistance employees, and subcontracted airport workers of all kinds demanded that Cuomo sign the Healthy Terminals Act (HTA), which would provide them with affordable healthcare insurance.

These workers, who the public and elected officials have referred to as frontline workers, want to be rewarded for their labor. 32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg said the slowdown on signing the law has to do with race.

“This is an issue of racial justice,” stated Bragg. “Right now, thousands of Black and Brown frontline airport workers do not have health care in the midst of a global pandemic. The bill, which airport workers pushed to pass in both chambers in the summer, would keep workers and the public safe by putting affordable health care within reach for frontline airport workers.”

According to a recent survey by Trip Advisor, 43% of people are traveling the weekend before Thanksgiving (Nov. 20-22) and 26% are traveling the day of Thanksgiving (Nov. 26). New York City appers to have a year-over year decrease of -80% as a travel destination, but five areas in Florida (including Key West, FL.) have experienced year-over-year increases as a travel destination.

The statistics, according to Bragg, warrant workers getting the healthcare they deserve.

“They do it without healthcare,” said Bragg

Both chambers of the New York State legislature passed the New York State Healthy Terminals Act. Elected officials and workers are waiting for Gov. Cuomo to sign the bill into law.

Attempts to contact Cuomo’s office for a response were unsuccessful.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Black people make up 15.4% of all COVID cases, but account for 19.6% of COVID deaths. Hispanics/Latinos account for 15.4% of all COVID deaths.

Teresa Peralta, a terminal cleaner at John F. Kennedy International Airport, said that she hasn’t stopped working since quarantine started.

“I have been on the front lines every day that I wasn’t sick with COVID,” said Peralta, “It’s my job to protect passengers and everyone who works here by keeping the terminal clean during the pandemic. When you have thousands of workers who can’t afford to go to the doctor working together, it’s not a safe place.”

“I work in a tight space,” added cabin cleaner Rojelio Brown. “And under a lot of pressure because cleaning and sanitizing planes is important to everyone’s safety.

“I’m not offered affordable healthcare, and with reduced hours, it’s hard to keep up financially,” said Brown. “Affordable healthcare would mean I could go to the doctor and take care of myself. With the holidays coming up, this job will only get riskier.”

32BJ played a significant role in helping President-elect Joe Biden beat President Donald Trump in the election. Union officials claim to have generated 2 million calls and 5 million texts in battleground states to help swing the election in the Democrats directions. But with two months remaining until Biden’s sworn in, labor wants the governor to use airline companies’ $50 billion bailout via the CARES Act to help out all airport workers (including sub-contracted ones). They’re asking for at least a $4.54 an hour supplement that can help them get better healthcare insurance.

New York State Comptroller and Mayoral Candidate Scott Stringer said that he joined the workers so elected officials can focus on the economic health of labor, which includes airport workers.

“The Healthy Terminals Act gives you the opportunity to take care of your family to make sure that there is safety in the household,” stated Stringer. “You risk your lives keeping the city going, keeping the airports going. You have always played that role. But time and time again you have faced discrimination. You have been cast aside by the executives who reap hundreds of millions of dollars because of the work you’re doing. Well, we’ve got to level this playing field.”