NEWARK, NJ – Governor Phil Murphy’s desk has a bill that would help thousands of Newark Airport workers pay for health care. But while supporters say it’s a long overdue tribute to some of New Jersey’s key transportation workers, some Republican lawmakers argue that the proposed bill is a “business killer.”
The law, known as the Healthy Terminal Act, was passed by the Senate and the Assembly. It would establish an applicable pay schedule for every employee – including those of private companies – who spends at least half of their working week at the airport or at the adjacent Newark Liberty International Airport Train Station. In addition, employers must pay a health care allowance of $ 4.54 per hour in addition to the minimum wage.
The bill would affect more than 10,000 employees at Newark Airport, many of whom work for subcontractors. These workers include cabin and terminal cleaners, wheelchair users, baggage claim agents, security officers, and passenger services representatives.
According to a statement by the Republicans of the New Jersey Assembly, it would be the first time that such mandates would be placed on New Jersey’s private non-construction companies.
However, it wouldn’t be a unique law for the Garden State. State law was passed in New York in December 2020 providing similar benefits to workers at LaGuardia and JFK airports.
Andre Cooper, a cabin cleaner at Newark Airport, has been on the job since the beginning of the pandemic, cleaning aircraft from around the world. And he did it without health insurance, he says.
“We’ve waited so long for this moment,” said Cooper, sharing his excitement after the congregation passed the law last week. “We got together, we lobbied, we gathered, we testified, and now we can look forward to a better, healthier future … all we need now is Governor Murphy to clear the bill as soon as possible sign.”
For Rhina Hernandez, a single mother of three who works at the airport cleaning food coolers, the bill comes at a time when her family is desperately needed.
“I breathed a sigh of relief,” she said after the meeting voted.
According to the 32BJ SEIU union, which represents many of the workers affected, Cooper and Hernandez are not alone. Many of their colleagues say they cannot afford their employer’s coverage because of the high cost, but they cannot qualify for Medicaid or Affordable Care Act grants because their incomes are too high.
As a result, up to a third of Newark Airport workers have no health care, union spokesmen said.
If the law is passed, employers will be forced to pay a performance premium that creates “meaningful and sustainable health insurance,” the union said.
The union estimated that the total cost to airlines would be just 0.11 percent of the latest $ 79 billion bailout package for pandemics.
Union spokesmen said the bill, if passed, is expected to generate about $ 7 million in Medicaid savings for the state when workers switch to employer health insurance plans.
The bill has also received support from other groups such as BlueWaveNJ.
“Newark Liberty Airport employees were at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic, putting their health and the health of their families at risk without access to affordable, quality health care,” the group stated. “That needs to change.”
Major airport employees risk their lives every day to serve one of New Jersey’s largest industries. It is our duty to protect them with affordable health insurance. We’re asking New Jersey lawmakers to pass the #HealthyTerminalsAct now. If you’re safe, we ALL have a safer journey. pic.twitter.com/uepkj85kGU
– 32BJ SEIU (@ 32BJSEIU) December 9, 2020
CRITIC: HERE WHY IT’S BAD FOR NJ
Last week, three Republican lawmakers criticized the healthy terminals bill, claiming it would grant airport workers privileges that other workers in the state do not.
Ironically, the bill can also increase labor costs and put airport jobs at risk, which is exactly damaging the workers it is trying to help, according to a joint statement by Rep. Brian Bergen (District 25), Rep. Betty Lou DeCroce (District 26) and des MP Gerry Scharfenberger (District 13).
“There is a reality, if you do this and increase labor costs beyond the reasonable threshold, you end up costing jobs,” said Scharfenberger.
DeCroce claimed the bill “makes no distinction between full-time and part-time workers when currently every other employer in the state offers workers benefits based on their hours worked.”
“I’m just trying to point out that everyone is fair and equitable and that we just don’t choose certain groups to help,” DeCroce said.
Bergen called the proposed bill “a bill to kill small businesses” and claimed it was just the “tip of the hat” when it comes to what the future holds for small businesses in New Jersey.
“That bill there [Newark Airport workers] A litany of various privileges and advantages that are not available to everyone else just because a particular group has the ears of the majority party, “argued Bergen.
Legislators pointed out that the Port Authority already has a minimum wage plan that raises the bar in New Jersey.
In 2018, JFK International, LaGuardia, and Newark Liberty International Airports passed a policy increasing the minimum wage for their workers to $ 17 in 2021, $ 18 in 2022, and $ 19 in 2023.
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