Airline cabin cleaners walk off jobs over Ebola fears at New York’s LaGuardia airport
About 200 airline cabin cleaners walked off their jobs at New York’s LaGuardia airport on Thursday, to protest what they say are working conditions that do not protect against potential Ebola contraction.
“When I do bathroom, I come in contact with tampons which I have to grab with my hand, with a glove that’s so cheap that it breaks easily. I come in contact with feces, a lot of feces and vomit. And we have to clean those bathrooms spotless because they audit those planes,”Wendy Arellano, one of the workers, told the Guardian.
“They expect us, that if a little bit of feces stays on the toilet, that we remove it with our hands because [if not] they will say that bathroom is dirty. And I refuse to do it because I think it’s disgusting and I don’t have the appropriate attire, and because I don’t know what that person has.
“We come in contact with a lot of stuff that is dangerous for our health and obviously they don’t give us the appropriate tools to work with.”
Workers set up picket lines overnight, by non-unionized Air Serv cleaners near Terminal D. The one-day strike forces airline crews to clean planes themselves.
Air Serv, an employer of the people striking today, released a statement in response to the walkout: “Air Serv trains its cabin cleaners in its long-standing safety procedures and cleaning protocols including for blood borne pathogens. These protocols include, but are not limited to, providing cleaners with protective equipment.”
“We continually review our policies and procedures for updates and enhancements, and communicate updates to employees, as necessary – for example, including an update on protocols for Ebola just last week. As to the union’s organizing campaign, we have no comment.”
Workers on strike, fearing the deadly virus and trying to join the union, briefly left the picket lines to attend an infectious disease training session organized by the union.
The Obama administration announced it would step up screening for Ebola symptoms at five major airports, after one man died Wednesday in Dallas from the virus , which he contracted in Liberia. LaGuardia, which does not service flights to west Africa – where more than 3,800 people have died due to outbreaks – is not among the airports with increased screenings.
A Delta Air Lines spokesperson told Reuters that airline staffers who usually do other terminal jobs had to clean planes themselves, but that no flights were delayed or canceled as a consequence.
The striking workers said in a statement that clean-up crews have recently been halved, and that the time to clean an entire plane reduced to as little as five minutes, rather than up to 45. They also protested that their employer does not provide them with face masks for dealing with strong cleaning chemicals.
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