How do you deal with a crisis that has resulted in over 4,500 flight attendants at the world’s largest airline suffering from reactions such as hives, rashes and even breathing difficulties – all from the very uniform they’re expected to wear every day they are at work?
That’s the question that two unions which represent different groups of American Airlines flight attendants have tried to answer – and they’ve both come up with very different solutions.
The problems started when American Airlines launched a brand new uniform in September 2016 for all of its frontline employees – soon after workers, and most prolifically, flight attendants started to report reactions to their new threads.
As we reported last week, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) which represents flight attendants at American’s wholly owned subsidiaries – Envoy, PSA and Piedmont – has put the airline on notice of its intent to start a lawsuit over the disastrous uniform rollout.
The union claims American has failed to tell flight attendants that the uniform they wear could have carcinogenic properties as independent chemical testing has found Formaldehyde in some uniform items. The chemical can be released and inhaled during normal wearing of the uniform.
The union says American has failed to adequately warn its employees that they may have been exposed to chemicals that cause cancer – a requirement under the State of California’s Proposition 65. As a result, the AFA has demanded the airline takes immediate action – if American fails to make changes within 60 days, the union says it will sue.
But the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) which represents legacy mainline and ex-U.S. Airways flight attendants has taken a rather dim view of this approach – and it’s not afraid to say so either.
In a public statement, APFA didn’t mince its words as it declared that “our flight attendants are light-years ahead of where we would be if we had waited and now threatened to file a lawsuit two months from this late date.” Ouch.
Saying that it too wanted a new uniform to be distributed as quickly as possible, it also wanted to make sure the replacement was “safe and reliable”. American has brought in Lands’ End to develop a replacement uniform using the same design as the current one – it should be ready at some point later this year.
“APFA has been at the forefront in addressing the potential safety and health issues concerning the current uniforms since they were first introduced in 2016,” the union explained.
“We have been successful in pressuring the company to implement both short-term and long-term solutions. APFA mobilized immediately and dedicated staff and resources to understanding and solving this problem, including creating a web form so that Flight Attendants could report their suspected reactions to the Union, engaging a toxicologist, and sending out uniform pieces for chemical testing.”
The union claims that all flight attendants have access to alternatives – including wearing similar off the rail retail items – if they don’t want to wear the American issued uniform.