NEWARK, NJ — On New Year’s Eve, the state of New York welcomed 2021 with the passage of the Healthy Terminals Act, a piece of legislation mandating that essential workers at airports be provided an increased minimum wage, paid leave and a standard health benefits supplement. 

Across the river, the employees who keep Newark Liberty International Airport are still advocating for the same legislation to make its way to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk. Representatives from Local 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and airport workers held a virtual rally on Martin Luther King. Jr. Day ahead of the New Jersey Senate vote, which was originally scheduled for Thursday. 

According to 32BJ President Kyle Bragg, more than a third of Newark Liberty International Airport workers surveyed in 2019 said they were uninsured. What’s more, only slightly more than 13% reported that they were enrolled in their employer’s health care plan due to deductibles and premiums far above affordability for a low-wage worker. 

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“Airport workers need the Healthy Terminals Act in New Jersey, and they need it now,” Bragg said Monday. “Some members of the union family are in crises. They’re in crisis because of the high cost they are forced to pay to get health care.”

The union has a record of winning campaigns for its members, such as a $19 minimum wage for airport employees by 2023. Union leaders and members typically gather each MLK Day to honor King’s commitment to social and economic justice for working people — as many as 4,000 employees at Newark Liberty International are members of 32BJ. 

The Healthy Terminals Act, or S989 in the state senate, covers low-wage airport workers and workers for private employers at the NJ Transit station at Newark Liberty International Airport. Sponsored by state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) and state Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex), the legislation proposes to raise employees’ wages over a six-year period so that they are guaranteed at least $2 above the state minimum. 

After 2025, that rate will continue increasing so that each year thereafter, the wage rate will be greater than $4 more than the minimum wage. Health care supplements set by the state labor commissioner and paid sick leave are the final promises guaranteed by the bill’s passage, ones that union cabin cleaner Andre Cooper said New Jersey can no longer afford to keep from essential workers. 

“My job is high stakes, and I like my job a lot. Cases are at an all-time high,” he said. “We risk everything for travelers and airline staff, and we need to be guaranteed the same amount of protection. We need health care. I don’t have any health care right now, and I know I am not alone. “

The state Senate was originally set to vote on S989 on Thursday, but has canceled the session and moved the vote to a date to be determined later. 

Weinberg said that holding such a rally on MLK Day was fitting given the urgency of this bill, which would provide medical coverage for many Black and Latinx employees in high-risk positions during the pandemic. 

“You are exposed to people who are flying all over the world and all over the country,” she said. “We in New Jersey now have to make sure that the airport workers at our airport have equal access to health care.”