NEW YORK – About 200 airline cabin cleaners walked off the job at New York’s LaGuardia Airport on Thursday to protest what they say is a lack of sufficient protection from exposure to Ebola for workers whose jobs include cleaning up vomit and bathrooms.
Picket lines were set up overnight by nonunionized Air Serv cleaners outside Terminal D at LaGuardia for a one-day strike prompted by fears about the deadly virus, forcing airline crews to clean the planes themselves.
“We have to deal with vomit. We get insufficient materials to work, like gloves that break,” Air Serv cabin cleaner Antonia Alvarado said in a statement released by Service Employees International Union, the nation’s largest service workers union.
The workers, who are trying to join the union, briefly left the strike line to attend an infectious disease training session organized by the union.
U.S. officials this week announced tighter screening at five major airports of travelers from West Africa, where Ebola has killed more than 3,800 people. LaGuardia, which serves only U.S., Canadian and Caribbean destinations, is not among them.
The federal government took that step after a Liberian national who was the first person diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil, Thomas Eric Duncan, died Wednesday at a Dallas hospital.
Air Serv’s owner, ABM Industries Inc., did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The walkout involved Delta Air Lines Inc. flights, and airline staffers normally assigned to other jobs at the terminal ended up cleaning up the planes themselves, according to Delta spokeswoman Elizabeth Wolf. No flights were delayed or canceled, she said.
The striking Air Serv workers said they have not had adequate training to protect themselves and are not provided with durable gloves or face masks to use when cleaning with strong chemicals.
They said in a statement their employer has halved the size of cleanup crews and reduced the time allotted to clean an entire plane to as little as five minutes instead of up to 45 minutes.