In April of 2019, while writing for the Guardian, I broke the story of Delta’s flight uniforms containing formaldehyde and Teflon coating that was making flight attendants sick. CBS Morning Show then followed up with a segment on our investigation into Delta, bringing the issue nationwide attention.
Now, after public pressure and facing a growing union drive, Delta announced this week that they would purchase new uniforms to give to the flight attendants.
“We are announcing a completely new uniform program for flight attendants and ACS above-wing employees, along with updates to our existing uniform in the interim,” said Delta in a statement released last night. “We will work together to get you in these new uniforms as soon as possible, hopefully in late 2021, depending on the feedback and guidance we receive from you.”
Until new uniforms are introduced, Delta is allowing all flight attendants to wear alternative black-and-white uniforms not made from the fabric, which has made many sick.
Introduced in May of 2018, the slick purple uniforms were designed by Bravo’s Project Runway star Zac Posen and manufactured by the retailer Land’s End. The uniforms were designed to turn Delta’s 24,000 flight attendants into “walking advertisements for the airline” as one flight attendant for the airline said.
Shortly after their introduction, some female flight attendants said that they started getting sick, reporting skin rashes, shortness of breath, and hair loss.
Many doctors told flight attendants that formaldehyde and Teflon chemical finishing, put on the uniforms to make them stain-resistant and durable, are a likely culprit.
However, when Delta flight attendants began to complain, many faced retaliation.
Delta informed some flight attendants that if they didn’t want to wear new uniforms, they would need to request a disability job accommodation with the option of going on short-term disability insurance.
Under short-term disability insurance, Delta’s flight attendants only make two-thirds of their pay and, after a year, would be forced either to return to their jobs or quit.
For many flight attendants, admitting that they had a problem stoked fears that they could be pushed out.
However, with the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) leading a union high-profile drive to organize Delta’s 24,000 flight attendants, the company has caved.
The union says it’s not enough and is calling on Delta to remove the uniforms more quickly.
Finally, the AFA is pushing the company to offer full pay and benefits to all flight attendants made sick by the uniforms and who are struggling to work as a result.
“This is welcome news and appropriate action, albeit eighteen months late. We applaud this step in the right direction, but encourage Delta management to take additional actions as soon as possible for the health of all Flight Attendants and to repair the damage caused for individuals” said AFA President Sara Nelson.