Before the start of the new year, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Healthy Terminals Act, a bill that requires New York’s airports to compensate employees with a supplement of at least $4.54 for health care benefits.
The extra boost is important for workers who have a hard time paying for premiums, co-pays and deductibles for health insurance plans offered by their employers. As a result, many forego health care plans completely.
The supplement will be implemented in phases, with workers who worked through the COVID-19 pandemic set to receive it first this July.
“Essential, frontline workers will breathe a deep sigh of relief knowing that real health care is an option soon,” said Kyle Bragg, president of SEIU 32BJ, the union that fought for the legislation. “Adding a health care benefit supplement to airport jobs creates thousands of good, sustainable jobs that uplift everyone.”
Workers who will benefit from the supplement include cabin and terminal cleaners, wheelchair attendants, baggage claim attendants, passenger service representatives and security officers like Sumintra Ramkissoon, who works at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Ramkissoon still has hospital bills coming in from when she tested positive for COVID-19 in March.
“It’s hard for people working at the airport to pay for medical bills when we don’t get affordable or reliable health care from our job, especially when we have reduced hours or furloughs,” she said. “But now we have a chance at health care that we can rely on.”
Horace Foster, a baggage claim attendant at JFK Airport, worked without health insurance. He owes more than $120,000 in medical bills after a hospital stay. He said debt like that can ruin one’s life, so he hopes it never happens to anybody else who works at the airport.
“My health conditions have been too expensive to treat, but now that all could change,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting my life back, and getting back to work with masks, gloves and finally, health insurance.”
Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement that the Healthy Terminal Act will help airport workers, travelers and the state with millions in Medicaid savings.
“I’m proud of New York for standing with workers in this crucial legislation,” she said.
“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,” added State Senator Alessandra Biaggi. “With the signing of the Healthy Terminals Act, these essential workers will finally have access to affordable health care coverage.”