LaGuardia Airplane Cleaners Strike Over Their Ebola Fears, But There's A Major Hiccup In Their Logic

Since Thomas Eric Duncan was diagnosed with Ebola last month — and, sadly, passed away Wednesday — Americans' concerns over a full-on outbreak have escalated quickly. While several major airports have adopted comprehensive screening procedures, LaGuardia Airport's airplane cabin cleaners are now striking because they're worried they might be exposed to the virus disease. This may seem a little paranoid to some, but it's reflective of an entire nation's fears.

On Wednesday night, 35 cabin cleaners for Delta Airlines contractor Air Serv Corp. went on strike at New York's LaGuardia Airport, and another 40 joined them early Thursday. According to a spokesperson for the 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU), who helped organize the demonstration and whom the workers voted to join earlier this year, "the workers are really worried because they tend to be exposed to bodily fluids" when cleaning out airplane bathrooms. They often come into contact with blood and vomit.

There's just one hiccup in their rationale — LaGuardia primarily handles domestic flights and flights to Canada and the Caribbean. Unlike JFK, the airport does not receive direct flights from West African countries where Ebola is most prevalent. So why all the fuss? According to Rob Hill, vice president of 32BJ, the workers' complaints have existed long before the Ebola outbreak, but they're using the epidemic to emphasize the need for safer conditions.

What They Want

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The workers have filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, citing the lack of protective gear in cleaning up potentially toxic waste — for example, cleaning gloves that are too thin — the company's refusal to replace uniforms that have been soiled by waste, and the reduced time allotted for clean-up from 45 minutes to as little as 5 minutes.

How the Union Is Helping With Ebola Screenings

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On the heels of the government's decision to start screening for Ebola more aggressively at five major airports, the SEIU has been holding training sessions for airport cleaners, terminal cleaners, and wheelchair attendants based on guidance and information from the CDC, WHO, and the International Air Transport Association.

The union has found that some workers were not even aware that additional gear was possible, so they're making an effort to provide centralized training for employees of different contractors and inform them of the CDC's standards, while also holding airports more accountable.

America's Growing Concerns

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The cabin cleaners' strike is indicative of an entire nation gripped with fear. According to a survey conducted by NBC News, the majority (58 percent) of Americans want a ban on flights from the most Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa — Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. Only 22 percent surveyed opposed a flight ban, while the rest was not sure. The survey also found that Obama's plan to send troops to Africa had almost twice as many opponents than supporters.

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