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Miami Airport Workers Strike For Health Care

More than 100 workers at Miami International Airport are striking for 24 hours.

Subcontractors tasked with handling baggage, curbside check-in and pushing wheelchairs for various airlines are walking off the job in protest of what they say are violations of the Miami-Dade County living-wage ordinance.

Click here to read more about the dispute over the living-wage ordinance.

Shaking signs, the workers kicked off their strike with a Junkanoo band and chants in a small plaza in front of the airport.

The workers, along with organizers at 32BJ SEIU, the service workers union that is helping them in their fight, have been putting pressure on their employer to offer them real health benefits. Under the Miami-Dade County living-wage ordinance, county employers and contractors are allowed to offer their workers lower wages in exchange for health care.

But part-time employees of Ultra Aviation Services say the health benefits they are automatically enrolled in are far below minimum standards. They say it’s not a real plan with a network and deductible, and that trips to the hospital have cost workers thousands of dollars.

Credit Wilson Sayre / WLRN
Iris Castro and Jose Ferrer both walked off the job at Ultra Aviation.

“I don’t have money for that,” says Iris Castro, who works security for Ultra.

She’s been with the company for three years and says she doesn’t go to the doctor because she can’t afford to pay out of pocket what her insurance won’t pay for.

“That’s the reason we fight. We need [real health insurance]. They don’t care how I’m feeling so that’s the reason why I stay here, protesting.”

Castro and more than 100 of her colleagues chose not to show up for work starting at noon Thursday and say they will return at the same time Friday.

“I know there are going to be consequences,” says Jose Ferrer. “I don’t know if I’m going to lose my job, but I’m going to keep fighting. They won’t stop me.”

Since the beginning of this push, Ultra has maintained it is fully compliant with the county’s living-wage ordinance.

“We certainly respect the First Amendment right of each of those employees to express their views,” said Miguel de Grandy, who represents Ultra.

He says while part-time workers are offered a health plan that is less comprehensive than that offered to full-time workers, it still meets minimum standards outlined in the Affordable Care act.

“Is the [part-time] plan as good as a full-time plan? No. Are they paying the same rate as a full-time plan? No,” says de Grandy, explaining the reason for the difference in plans.

Credit Wilson Sayre / WLRN
Helene O'Brien speaks at a rally against Ultra Aviation.

Additionally, he points to a provision in the living-wage ordinance that references a state statute that was repealed in 2015.

County officials are continuing to look into whether Ultra is in violation, but have yet to make a determination since workers first lodged their complaints in April. The department in charge of living-wage ordinance compliance has asked Ultra for payroll documents, with a July 12 deadline.

If it does find Ultra in violation of the living-wage ordinance, the workers would be entitled to at least back pay for their reduced wages.

The workers say they’ll keep on top of the county until that happens.