Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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FL Low Wage Airport Workers: Ebola Concern

MIAMI, FL – While the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the medical community scramble to get a handle on the spread of Ebola in the U.S., low-wage workers at Florida's airports are concerned about the risks.

Cabin cleaners, wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers and contract workers make a little less than $8 an hour, but could potentially be exposed to the illness before a patient knows he or she is sick.

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Julie Karant, spokeswoman for the service employees union 32-B-J SEIU, said workers have been concerned for a long time.

"The Ebola crisis has simply put a spotlight on it because airport workers are on the front lines during this alarming period," she said. "Cabin cleaners have reported that they are given gloves but not masks, even though they have to clean up bodily fluids such as vomit, feces and blood."

Contract cleaning services were tasked with cleaning the Frontier Airlines jet on which nurse Amber Joy Vinson flew before her Ebola diagnosis. Frontier has cleaned the Denver-based plane four times and placed the flight's six-person crew on leave for 21 days, the normal incubation period for the virus.

Last week, 200 airline cabin cleaners refused to go to work at LaGuardia Airport in New York over concerns about the level of protection offered to them in the form of gloves, body suits and masks.

On Friday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott asked the federal government to screen for Ebola at airports in the Sunshine State.

"They don't give us masks, only the gloves," said Rachel, who cleans planes at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. "I have blood, I have pee when we're cleaning the plane. We see everything."

Karant said the airline industry is making record-breaking profits and contracts often are awarded to the lowest bidder. That means low salaries, she said, and can lead to a high turnover rate, possibly impacting the preparedness of employees as they confront threats such as Ebola, or even security.

"It's a systemic problem with our airports," she said. "It's clear that we have to fix this patchwork system of low-road subcontractors at Fort Lauderdale and at airports across the nation."

The union is joining other worker's rights groups in calling on airlines and their contractors to offer protective gear and equipment and comply with CDC guidelines.

With more than 145,000 members in 11 states, 32-BJ SEIU is the largest property-service workers union in the nation.

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