The state Legislature on Monday began moving ahead Senate Bill 989, which effectively requires health coverage for thousands of subcontractors who work in retail and passenger service at New Jersey’s largest airport, after a wage increase approved by the Port Authority in 2018 pushed many of them out of Medicaid eligibility.
Known as the Healthy Terminals Act, the proposal requires subcontractors have wage hikes, paid time off, and are provided $4.54 an hour to subsidize their purchase for more thorough health plans.
But with air travel cratering amid a combination of COVID-19 travel restrictions, losses in disposable income and overall anxiety over whether airplanes could serve as a petri dish for the spread of the virus, opponents contend that the industry is in no shape to field these costs.
If Gov. Phil Murphy enacted the measure, it could affect more than 12,000 workers at Newark Liberty International Airport. Their jobs include baggage claim, wheelchair attendants, security, passenger verification agents and retail workers.
The measure passed by a 3-2 vote at a Monday morning Senate Labor Committee with the two Republicans dissenting.
An identical version passed from the New York State Legislature and was sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk.
Typically, for any regulations affecting the bi-state Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the governors of both states have to sign identical versions of the bill for them to go into effect, though that is not the case with this proposal.
“They’ve made lots of money and they were spending a lot of the money they made on share buybacks and executive compensation,” Larry Engelsteim, secretary-treasurer of the 32BJ SEIU, a union that represents roughly 2,500 subcontractors at Newark Airport, said Monday of the airline industry. “They got a huge amount of bailout money from the federal government and they’re seeking more.”
Port Authority officials could not be reached for comment, nor could Newark airport’s largest airliner United Airlines.
“[Airlines for America] members comply with all applicable state wage and labor laws and are committed to protecting our industry’s hardworking men and women, as well as those whose jobs rely on the U.S. airline industry,” Katherine Estep, a spokesperson for the nationwide airline trade group Airlines for America, said in a statement.
“This proposal singles out the airline industry for substantial costs and would further exacerbate the devastating financial impacts already felt due to COVID-19,” Estep said.
The measure calls for workers, starting in 2021, to be paid $2 above the wage set by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which will reach $19 an hour by 2023. By 2026, they would be paid at least $4 above the Port Authority’s minimum wage.
“When the airport workers on both sides of the river got to $19 an hour, a lot of them lost their Medicaid coverage,” Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-37th District, who’s sponsored many bills to regulate the bi-state agency, said in a January interview.
The measure is meant to provide relief to the “thousands of front-line workers who have risked their lives” during the pandemic who are left abandoned without meaningful access to health care,” Engelstein added.
Medicaid eligibility levels are based on a percentage of the federal poverty level and depend on the number of children or adults in a household. The threshold is higher for a household with more members in it.
“So what this bill does is give an extra amount of money for workers to be able to purchase health care,” Weinberg added. “Where employers are supplying health care, it is so paltry and so expensive that it’s almost beyond the ability of these people to pay for it.”
1 of 2
1 article remaining
Advance your business edge with news from NJBIZ. Register now for more article access.