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Airport workers to address Ebola concerns

Stephon Johnson | 10/9/2014, 1:39 p.m.
Thursday, workers from local airports will attend an awareness training session that will cover guidelines for cleaning airplane cabins, lavatories ...
Airport workers rally

Amsterdam News Staff

Thursday, workers from local airports will attend an awareness training session that will cover guidelines for cleaning airplane cabins, lavatories and areas that have been exposed to the Ebola virus.

Called “Infectious Disease Awareness Trainings,” the sessions will cover current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the International Air Transport Association.

The all-day sessions will be conducted by SEIU Health and Safety Director Mark Catlin, along with a team of doctors from the SEIU Health and Education Fund and the SEIU 1199 Doctors Council. They’ll be joined by representatives from the New York Health Department, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Airport contractors have also been invited to attend.

There are more than 8,600 subcontracted service workers at John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health conducted interviews with subcontracted ground crew workers, and according to a new report released by the Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, hazardous exposure to bodily fluids, blood borne pathogens, unlabeled chemical cleaners, diesel emissions, temperature extremes and loud noises have all put contracted airport workers at risk.

Wheelchair attendants at JFK and LaGuardia told a Committee for Occupational Safety and Health representative that they are required to clean up the blood, urine, feces and vomit of sick passengers. Aircraft cabin cleaners reported being supplied with unlabeled chemical cleaning products with harsh odors and various adverse effects. Baggage handlers told the Committee for Occupational Safety and Health that they face many hazards at work, including routine exposure to diesel emissions, harsh weather and repetitive strain injuries.

“In our interviews with contracted-out airport workers, we found that unsafe working conditions are pervasive at JFK and LaGuardia airports,” said Charlene Obernauer, Committee for Occupational Safety and Health executive director, in a statement. “These hazardous conditions are preventable, and contractors, airlines and airports should make it a priority to eliminate these risks for workers and passengers alike.”

The Committee for Occupational Safety and Health’s report comes amid a rising fear over the spread of Ebola, prompting 32BJ SEIU, which has been working on behalf of workers, to hold the aforementioned sessions for New York City area airport workers. With airport workers fighting for higher wages, better working conditions, training, benefits and the right to join a union, concerns over contact with Ebola play a role in labor discussions. Hector Figueroa, president of SEIU 32BJ, said that workers need to at least be informed and provided with the right materials to be safe.

“These workers who are paid poverty wages at the airports also aren’t provided with the proper training, materials or equipment to deal with bodily fluids, blood and other hazards,” said Figueroa in a statement. “These workers deserve the basic resources that would make their jobs safe for both themselves and for passengers.”