At least 943 Delta Air Lines employees have allegedly made formal complaints about suffering adverse skin reactions to a designer uniform introduced by the airline last June. The complaints, whch range from painful itchy rashes, hives, shortness of breath and sore eyes, represent a serious problem for the Atlanta-based airline despite the fact that at worst, less than 1.5 per cent of Delta workers have had a reaction to the suspect garments.
A new internal report from an independent chemical testing firm that cleared the Delta uniform of having any “attributable health risk” has caused consternation among “above wing” employees like flight attendants and driven support for a high-profile unionizing effort according to Bloomberg.
The tests were carried out by Intertox who sampled 628 of the Zac Posen-designed Delta uniform items. The report from the independent laboratory concluded that some “allergens and irritants” were present in the garments but none were present in a high enough concentration to cause the kinds of adverse skin reactions that have been seen in some employees, especially flight attendants.
Controversially, Intertox is said to be the same lab that tested uniform items from American Airlines following widespread health problems linked with their uniform. Again, Intertox was unable to find any chemicals in the clothing that caused serious health problems in several thousand flight attendants.
American Airlines eventually decided to ditch its original uniform vendor and opted to partners with Lands’ End – the same producer of Delta’s new collection and primarily because the roll-out had seemingly gone without a hitch.
Delta maintains that there’s no inherent issue with the “passport plum” colored uniform but it has been allowing some flight attendants to wear their own clothing rather than the Lands’ End-produced togs.
“In addition to offering many alternative garments to the small percentage of employees who have reported a reaction, we invested in a rigorous toxicology study to determine if there was a scientifically known, universal issue with the uniform,” a Delta spokesperson told Bloomberg News.
“The results of this study show that there is not.”
But according to several sources, flight attendants simply aren’t buying the official explanation. After the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) threw its weight behind a unionizing effort for Delta’s unrepresented flight attendants last month, support for the campaign is said to have to skyrocketed.
After Delta shared the results of the toxicological support, a spike in flight attendants signing union authorization cards is said to have followed quickly behind. One flight attendants, who has remained anonymous for fear of reprisals from her employer, said the internal memo “sent them all over the edge”.
“Evidently, AFA started getting calls. All their hotlines blew up. It was just crazy,” the source continued.
Another trade union fighting to unionize Delta’s flight attendants has previously claimed there are “countless” numbers of crew who have really been affected by the uniform issues. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) says many sufferers are too afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation from the company.
In April, the union shared nasty-looking close-up photos of rashes that Delta flight attendants have allegedly developed only after wearing the new uniform. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) opened an official inquiry following the revelations but closed its investigation in June.
The government agency said it was “possible that textile chemicals in the uniforms or the physical irritant properties of the uniform fabrics have caused skin symptoms among Delta employees,” and made several recommendations for Delta to follow-up on.
Delta says it is continuing to investigate the concerns of some staffers and is working with independent doctors to help treat the small number of sufferers. Those measures, however, may not be enough to calm the fears of workers who may well want a union to fight their corner.