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American Airlines flight attendants file grievance over new uniforms

Hundreds of American Airlines flight attendants have reported allergic reactions to new uniforms issued in September, which replaced these older uniforms.
Hundreds of American Airlines flight attendants have reported allergic reactions to new uniforms issued in September, which replaced these older uniforms. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

American Airlines flight attendants filed a grievance with the carrier over new uniforms they say have caused headaches, skin irritation and other health problems since being introduced in September.

The airline should either stop issuing the clothing or allow workers to wear their old outfits, Bob Ross, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, said in a letter to American’s general counsel.

The conflict at Fort Worth-based American marks at least the second time that supplier Twin Hill has raised hackles at an airline. Some flight attendants at Alaska Air Group complained several years ago of adverse reactions to their uniforms.

The union at American has requested that the airline reimburse flight attendants for any related health-care costs and set aside $2 million to fund a study of the outfits.

“These uniforms continue to put our members at risk, forcing them to use sick leave and affecting their overall health,” Ross wrote in the letter on Wednesday. Flight attendants have reported endocrine issues, wheezing, fatigue, vertigo and other conditions after wearing the outfits, he wrote.

Flight attendants began complaining about allergic reactions to the uniforms shortly after they were issued. The modern-style uniforms include gray suits, red and blue scarves and white shirts, similar to the carrier’s redesigned logo and aircraft livery unveiled three years ago.

American Airlines tested the clothing three times and will conduct a fourth examination with the union, said spokesman Ron DeFeo. The carrier has also set up a call center to take complaints, and about 300 attendants have reported experiencing a reaction, he said. The airline will cover the cost of dermatological testing for such employees and will respond to the union’s letter within 20 days.

Twin Hill, a unit of Houston-based Tailored Brands, has supplied US Airways (which merged with American three years ago) for the past 10 years and is able to handle a large order, DeFeo said. American’s employee uniforms have over two million pieces, counting multiple uniforms for each worker.

After the complaints at Alaska, the airline offered employees alternate pieces, according to spokeswoman Halley Knigge. The company switched to another supplier in 2013. A group of flight attendants for the carrier unsuccessfully sued Twin Hill in California.

A spokesman for Tailored Brands, which also operates the Jos. A. Bank and Men’s Wearhouse chains, didn’t have an immediate comment.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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