QNS.com: Airport workers in Queens demand health care coverage after COVID-19 ravages their ranks and families

Originally published in QNS.com on July 04, 2020.

Elected officials joined members of 32BJ airport workers at a rally in Queens to demand that airlines and terminal operators pay medical benefits to their employees, especially following the COVID-19 outbreak in which workers became sick and some died.

 

Some of those present not only contracted the contagion, but they also lost family members after they brought the coronavirus home.

The elected officials, led by state Senators Michael Gianaris, John Liu and Alessandra Biaggi are seeking passage of the Healthy Terminals Act (S.6266/A.8142), which would provide access to quality, affordable insurance for tens of thousands of airport workers.

“The Healthy Terminals Act will ensure every worker at New York’s airports has access to the quality healthcare they need and deserve,” Gianaris told the crowd. “Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, more than ever, we need to pass the Healthy Terminals Act and I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.”

Sumintra Ramkissoon, a security agent at JFK Terminal 5, said she became sick with COVID-19, couldn’t afford the hospital, and was treated at home by her husband Stevenson – he also contracted it and died.

“I lost my husband and my best friend to the coronavirus after I contracted it,” said Ramkissoon, who’s currently on leave. “As essential workers, we are on the front lines and can be exposed to all kinds of illnesses, whether or not there’s a pandemic. Passing the Healthy Terminals Act is important to me, not just because I lost my husband but because health care is a right. We shouldn’t have to be begging for proper health care.”

Floyd Adonis, a baggage handler, was laid off from JFK airport and now owes $10,000 in hospital bills after he became sick and had no coverage. He said he had to deal with illness himself because he couldn’t afford t have bills pile up

“Because of the thousands of dollars I already owe the hospitals, I just do my best to try to weather it out when I don’t feel good,” said Adonis, who was hospitalized three times from February to April with a heart condition. “I couldn’t afford to buy a medicine they prescribed to me after my first visit, which landed me in the hospital for 4 days afterwards. We shouldn’t have to avoid getting the health care we need, just because we can’t afford it.”

Some airport workers may get masks, gloves, and other personal protective gear (PPE) while on the job, but still many do not have the most important protection of all—health care, officials said. According to a voluntary 2019 survey by 32BJ SEIU, as many as 20% of airport workers could be uninsured. Many more are underinsured and struggle with employer-provided health plans that have unaffordable premiums, co-pays and high deductibles.

Passenger service workers like wheelchair attendants, security, cleaners and passenger service representatives–have been lobbying Albany lawmakers to pass the proposed landmark Healthy Terminals Act (HTA), which is sponsored by Biaggi and Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman. HTA will require employers at New York airports to compensate workers, including sub-contracted passenger services workers, a $4.54 benefits supplement that workers can use to acquire insurance.