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American to switch uniform vendor after workers report allergic reactions

American Airlines will look for a new uniform supplier after receiving thousands of complaints from flight attendants, pilots and gate agents who said they had allergic reactions to clothing manufactured by Twin Hill.

“All of the testing to date confirms that the current uniforms are safe, and indeed, most team members wearing them do not have any issues doing so,” the company said in a memo sent to employees Wednesday. “Despite these efforts, it is clear we need a long-term solution because the current approach simply does not work.”

American and Twin Hill mutually agreed to end the uniform supply contract when it expires in 2020, the Fort Worth-based carrier said. American said it will take two to three years to select a new uniform vendor, a process that will include choosing new fabrics and conducting wear tests with employees.

“We’re pleased that American Airlines has announced today that it will begin the process of ordering and delivering new uniforms for flight attendants and other American employees,” said Bob Ross, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants union, in a statement. “Management at American is taking a positive step by stating that front-line flight attendants and our union will play a key role as the process for delivering new uniforms goes forward.”

Houston-based Twin Hill said it stands by the safety of its uniforms, which were manufactured using the same fabric and factories as millions of other garments in its corporate apparel group. Twin Hill was previously sued by flight attendants at Alaska Airlines who alleged that Twin Hill uniforms caused allergic reactions. Last year, a court ruled in Twin Hill’s favor that the Alaska uniforms did not cause the symptoms.

“Twin Hill has determined that the reputational risk, management distraction, and legal and other costs associated with serving American in the future would be unacceptable to our business, given the likelihood of continued unfounded allegations about the safety of our garments,” the company said in a statement. “Twin Hill is currently providing, and will continue to provide, American with additional uniform product through the scheduled completion of our agreement in three years, and have committed ourselves to working closely with the company through the transition.”

Some employees were not pleased that they will have to wait until 2020 for a new uniform.

The airline does not plan to redesign the uniforms that were rolled out to 80,000 employees last September in the first redesign in almost 30 years.

Within a few days of the launch, however, flight attendants and gate agents began reporting allergic reactions such as hives, rashes and headaches after wearing the uniforms. By this spring, APFA said it had received over 3,500 complaints from flight attendants.

As more complaints were reported by other work groups, American provided uniform options, including purchasing off-the-shelf clothing that’s similar to the uniform design or buying a version designed by Aramark or M&H.

Over 10,000 alternate uniforms have been ordered, said American spokesman Ron DeFeo.

American said it plans to routinely update its uniform design as trends change. In the meantime, it will keep the current design and has asked employees to purchase one of the alternate options if they are having issues with the Twin Hill uniform.

“We are all aligned in the commitment to keep safety foremost in our work, and this commitment includes providing a comfortable uniform that can be worn by all team members,” the company said.

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Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk