Ordinance giving airport workers expanded health coverage approved

San Francisco supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved an ordinance that would require some employers at San Francisco International Airport to...

San Francisco supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved an ordinance that would require some employers at San Francisco International Airport to offer affordable health care plans for thousands of airport workers and their families.

Authored by supervisors Shamann Walton and Rafael Mandelman, the Healthy Airport Ordinance requires that employers such as airlines and third-party providers offer employees family plans or make contributions on behalf of employees to the city’s health care fund.

According to union leaders, the expanded health care access is much needed as airport workers — including baggage handlers, wheelchair agents, security screeners and lobby agents — are in constant, close contact with passengers and face an elevated risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. Additionally, workers such as airline food catering workers and airplane cabin cleaners also face risk, as they work in small spaces, where ventilation isn’t always possible.

So far, there have been 156 cases of COVID-19 among SFO workers.

“For far too many airport workers — the majority of whom are low wage, and many of whom live below the Bay Area poverty line — sky-rocketing co-pays and deductibles and expensive family plans mean workers and their families regularly forego medical visits because they can’t afford to take on thousands of dollars in debt. This health care crisis not only threatens the safety of SFO, but also threatens to further widen the gap between the richest and the poorest in our economy. The Healthy Airport Ordinance will help end this race to the bottom for frontline Airport workers,” Mandelman said in a statement.

“Workers at SFO are mostly Black, Latino and API (Asian Pacific Islander) workers, and they have been already hard-hit by this pandemic. I am committed to supporting these workers, and every day that we fail to take action is another day that airport workers risk COVID-19 exposure without affordable health care for themselves and their families,” Walton said.

The ordinance follows years of organizing by airport workers and union leaders to get airport employers to expand coverage options. Within the past year, dozens of SFO workers have been arrested, along with a handful of San Francisco supervisors including Walton, during sit-ins at SFO calling for more worker benefits.

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