Summer is a busy time for airports all across this country, but in a major tourist destination like Miami, this is especially true. It is often easy to overlook the hard work that Miami International Airport workers perform, but their labor makes one of the busiest airports in the country run smoothly. After all, there were over 35,110 flights either landing or taking off Miami International Airport in the month of May alone.
Unfortunately, these workers are not receiving their fair share for their hard work. A private contractor operating at Miami International Airport named Ultra aviation Services is stiffing its employees off their wages and their healthcare, offering them a health care plan that does not even cover minimal requirements under county ordinance.
The Miami Dade County Living Wage Ordinance states that Ultra can pay employees $12.63 an hour with a qualifying health benefit plan or $15.52 an hour without a healthcare plan. MIA workers say Ultra’s plan through TransAmerica Life Insurance does not meet the minimum requirements of a health plan.
They are right. The policy Ultra offers its workers is laughable in its limitations. For example, the plan only covers $100 a day for hospital stays. In Florida, the average per day cost in a for-profit hospital is $1,600, while the cost in a non-profit hospital is $2,200 a day.
The mediocre plan is robbing needed medical care from the baggage handlers, ramp workers, security guards and others who keep the airport running.
Jose Ferrer, 46, is a security guard with joint pains so severe his usual medication no longer alleviates the pain. Ferrer told the Miami New Times that his doctor gave him two options, get a blood test or an MRI scan on his hands and knees. Unfortunately, his insurance plan covers only one blood test per year and an MRI would cost more than $500 out of pocket, leaving him unable to get the treatment he badly needs.
Attorney Miguel De Grandy, who represents Ultra, claims the healthcare plan is a “preventive health plan” that complies with the federal Affordable Care Act and the County Living Wage Ordinance.
In the lead up to the busy Fourth of July weekend at Miami International Airport, more than 100 Ultra Aviation employees went on a 24- hour strike led by SEIU 32BJ, an airport workers union, to protest Ultra’s unfair practices against them and appeal to Miami Dade County officials to intervene. Community supporters and elected officials, including State Representative Daisy Baez and State Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez, joined the strike to support the mostly Hispanic airport workers and join them on a parade led by a Haitian marching band.
Their action is a powerful way for travelers to see the people who work behind the scenes to keep the airport running. It is a powerful reminder for all of us the next time we catch a flight to remember the fight of baggage handlers, ramp workers or security guards to earn a fair wage for their hard work.