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Uninsured Airport Workers Pin Hopes on Legislators Returning to Albany

May 22, 2020

By Marc Bussanich

New York, NY – Uninsured airport workers at New York’s major airports may soon get some relief as some of their elected officials will be trying to advance the Healthy Terminals Act when they head back soon to the Legislature in Albany. 

Airport workers, seen here rallying for the Healthy Terminals Act back in January, are counting on elected officials to pass the measure once they return to Albany.

The property service workers union 32BJ SEIU held a telepresser on May 21, where it announced that as many as 20-percent of New York’s airport workers could be uninsured, which the union says could lead to disaster for the uninsured workers as the economy reopens.

The union hasn’t been spared the worst effects of the pandemic. To date, 118 32BJ union members have succumbed to the virus — seven of them airport workers.

Two sponsors of the HTA spoke during the telepresser, State Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman. 

Senator Biaggi explained that the HTA will require employers at New York airports to compensate workers, including sub-contracted passenger service workers such as wheelchair attendants, security, cleaners and passenger service representatives a $4.54 benefits supplement that workers can use to buy insurance.

“The $4.54 supplemental benefit required by the HTA can be paid in health benefits, cash equivalent of benefits or both, so you can kind of think of it as an employer contribution to a worker’s health insurance,” said Biaggi. 

She continued to explain that the hourly supplement can aggregate into a monthly premium that an employer can use to provide health care. 

“For example, 32BJ has negotiated with employers subject to the Service Contract Act to use the $4.54 supplemental benefit provision to provide insurance for roughly 20,000 members with no premiums, no deductible and very low co-pays for in-network expenses.

“If the benefit supplement was provided in cash a worker can use it to pay for other healthcare costs so it can be used to offset those costs and the employer gets to choose, so it’s the employer that has the decision ultimately whether to provide in the form of health insurance, cash or a combination,” Biaggi said. 

Assemblywoman Hyndman noted that since airlines received a generous $50 billion bailout in March from the federal government to help them offset losses from the virus, they are in a very good position to pay just an extra four dollars for airport workers’ health care. 

“We’re asking for four dollars more, and it sounds very small but that will make a fundamental difference in the lives of these workers at these major airports.” 

Jordany Bueno is a wheelchair agent at LaGuardia Airport who suffers from epilepsy. He doesn’t have health insurance to afford his medication, labs and doctor visits. He hopes the HTA passes this upcoming legislative session. 

He said he loves his job and he love helping people, but can he only do that if he stays healthy. 

“We are essential workers and we need good healthcare so that we can feel safe at our jobs.” 

May 22, 2020

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