The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has begun training for airport workers, in order to equip cabin cleaners, janitorial workers, baggage handlers, security officers and wheelchair attendants with the tools necessary to better tackle infectious diseases.
The union says the services rendered by cabin cleaners and wheelchair attendants could help minimize the risks of possible contamination, but workers are given little to no training by their employers or the airlines they serve.
More than 200 subcontracted cabin cleaners at LaGuardia Airport in New York City went on strike last October over unhealthy and unsafe working conditions, including lack of protection from possible exposure to Ebola and other infectious diseases.
“When I clean bathrooms, I come into contact with tampons, which I have to grab with my hand—with a glove that’s so cheap that it breaks easily,” Wendy Arellano, an AirServ Cabin cleaner, told the Guardian while on strike last year. “I come into contact with feces, a lot of feces and vomit. And we have to clean those bathrooms spotless because they audit those planes.”
Because of the nature of their jobs, airport workers play a critical role in infection control efforts within the U.S. aviation system. SEIU is providing health and safety trainings with assistance of a grant from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health.
The infectious disease prevention training at LAX is the first of a series of trainings the SEUI plans for airports across the country.