When American Airlines announced their intentions to introduce the first new employee uniform design in decades, their 80,000 employees were very enthusiastic. When employees learned the uniform would be manufactured by TwinHill, a division of Men’s Wearhouse, some expressed concern.
Alaska Airlines had introduced a new uniform in 2011, also manufactured by Twin Hill, which caused many employees to experience adverse health reactions. When employees raised questions on the selection of TwinHill and including whether any proactive measures were being taken to prevent a repeat of the situation at Alaska Airlines, their concerns were dismissed.
Then I got hold of some startling photos from American employees who were experiencing rashes, hives, swollen eyes, respiratory problems and more after wearing the uniform.
In an interview with Lewis Lazare of Chicago Business Journal, American Airlines’ Fern Fernandez immediately disputed the number of affected flight attendants reported by the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), which represents American’s flight attendants, even though he had not yet reached out to the union.
“I have gotten reports from 14 out of more than 80,000 employees,” Fern Fernandez, American’s VP of Global Marketing (Chicago Business Journal)
Since his initial statement, Mr. Fernandez has changed his tune and the company is now having to take additional action as reports from flight attendants to the union have grown to over 1,000 with more coming in daily. Employees have been provided with a call center number to call in order to report health issues with the uniform and to receive permission to return to wearing their old uniform until a resolution is finalized.
Here is what Alaska Airlines announced in 2012:
“The safety of Alaska Airlines employees is paramount, and we’ve been working closely with our people and the two unions that represent them to resolve this issue. Numerous tests by three different labs have been unable to determine the cause of the physical reactions, which affected a limited number of our uniformed employees. While the vast majority of those affected are no longer having problems, we’ve provided two alternate uniforms to those who are. Alaska will work with the two employee work groups and unions affected to develop standards for sourcing, materials and other manufacturing issues to make sure that any uniform our people wear is safe and comfortable.” Alaska Airlines vice president of inflight services Andy Schneider
And from the Air Safety, Health and Security Department at Association of Flight Attendants: — Link to report
As of Feb. 5, 2014, AFA-CWA had received reports of illness from more than 800 of its approximately 3,000 members at Alaska Airlines, involving symptoms that developed since wearing the TwinHill/Men’s Wearhouse employee uniforms. Many of these symptoms (e.g,. rash/hives, burning eyes, swelling around the eyes/mouth, difficulty breathing) are typically exacerbated at work and either improve/resolve when away from work. Some symptoms (e.g., hair loss, abnormal thyroid function) appear more constant, unless there is an extended absence from work. Of the affected flight attendants, some have reported positive skin patch reactions to potassium dichromate and cobalt. The heavy metals identified in some fabric samples include antimony, aluminum, arsenic, bismuth, chromium (trivalent and hexavalent), cobalt, copper, lead, manganese, and titanium. Other identified compounds include diisodecylmaleate, 2-ethyl hexyl fumarate, phthalates, tributyl phosphate, and various allergenic dyes (see July 2013 bulletin, below). Note that, these chemicals have been confirmed in fabric samples but it may not be a comprehensive list. Talk to your doctor about whether skin patch testing (if you have skin symptoms) and testing blood levels of heavy metals, for example, would be appropriate for you.