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Airport workers raise issue of cleanliness

July 16, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Union workers who clean airplane bathrooms at Los Angeles International Airport say a lack of staff and resources have left them little time to properly do their job.Workers handed out sanitary wipes and flyers to passengers Wednesday at LAX in an effort to call attention to the problem.

Click in the Eyewitness News Story Window above to watch Melissa MacBride's report from LAX.

The Reaching Higher Coalition says it tested a blanket and pillow from American Airlines and found traces of bacteria that can cause intestinal infections. Workers say they are understaffed and ill-equipped to properly clean airplane cabins and bathrooms.

As passengers entered terminal 4 Wednesday, they were met by service workers and members of the Service Employees International Union dispensing flyers and sanitary wipes.

"It's a difficult time for the airline industry, but I think what, you know, our concern is that we want to make sure that in difficult times for the industry that it's workers and passengers themselves who don't suffer," said Kevin Rudiger, who represents the workers.

One-third of LAX workers say they don't have enough time or people to change the blankets and pillows in between flights. Janitors that clean the lavatories say they don't get adequate cleaning chemicals. In some instances, they said they had to resort to cleaning restrooms with only water because they had no disinfecting cleanser.

Some passengers were in too big of a hurry to read the flyer, but Sherril Jean Thompson glanced over the information and saw no reason for alarm.

"I'm not concerned about it because you've got little mites and all kinds of things in your pillows all the time," said Thompson.

Lavette Spencer brings her own pillow when she travels to avoid using one that's been used by other passengers. But she says workers should have time to wipe off shared surfaces on board.

"The airplanes do need to be cleaned and wiped from one passenger to the next because you never know when someone has a bacteria or touched something and has a virus or an infection and then somebody else gets on," said Spencer. "We're just spreading it to person to person to person."

The SEIU is raising the issue of cleanliness in the cabins as the current contract gets ready to expire in August. The union says workers need higher wages and better working conditions.

"Less than three percent of airline contracted service workers at LAX currently have family health insurance, which means that it's just a dead end job that people are constantly cycling through," said Rudiger. "So we really believe that improving standards for these workers means improved standards for the passengers as well."

The workers are employed by World Service West. A company official said he was unaware of the job action taken Wednesday. A phone call to an attorney for the company has not yet been returned.

 

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