ALBANY, N.Y. – Workers at New York’s transportation hubs went to Albany yesterday to tell legislators they need help getting high-quality health insurance while serving the public.
Low-wage workers from John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Stewart international airports, Grand Central and Pennsylvania stations, and the Port Authority Bus Terminal say they are forced to rely on taxpayer-funded programs because they can’t afford the health insurance plans provided by the subcontractors they work for.
Jordany Bueno Vasquez is a wheelchair attendant at LaGuardia airport and a member of Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ. He has epilepsy and says he may have to choose between paying medical bills or paying the rent.
“Like an incident where I have a seizure and they call the ambulance and they take me to a hospital,” says Vasquez. “I have to pay the hospital bill and the ambulance bill. And those are like unexpected costs that happen.”
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The workers want lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 6266, the Healthy Terminals Act, which would provide thousands of workers with benefit supplements compensation.
Vasquez notes that workers at airports and terminals risk illness and injury on the job every day.
“Just doing the airport jobs, we get hurt and we’re not covered,” says Vasquez. “Baggage handlers have hurt their backs. The workers are put outside to work a lot and they get sick. We also work with the passengers that are sick.”
According to 32BJ President Kyle Bragg one in six workers in this country has medical debt causing financial hardship, which can lead working families into poverty.
Vasquez adds that a successful union organizing campaign helped the airport workers win higher wages, but then their expenses increased too.
“It’s helped, but before, I had the city insurance, which was free,” says Vasquez. “Once we got the raises, I lost my insurance. The Healthy Terminals Act would mean free health care.”
He says without this bill, medical expenses could push some workers into bankruptcy.