Flight attendants have come together in a broad-based coalition called OSHA NOW!, to pressure the Clinton Administration to provide them with the same health and safety protections as other workers.
"How many flight attendants must suffer preventable injuries before the FAA takes action?" said Patricia Friend, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA).
Unlike most American workers, flight attendants are not protected in their workplace by OSHA. The OSH Act permits federal agencies other than OSHA to assert jurisdiction over specific categories of employees.
In 1975, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) claimed jurisdiction over airline workers.
While pilots are protected by the FAA's Office of Aviation Medicine, standards to protect flight attendants were never adopted.
Last week, flight attendants rallied together at a press conference in Washington, D.C., to express concern about their on-the-job safety.
Members said that thousands of flight attendants continue to suffer preventable health problems and injuries related to bad cabin air, poorly designed food and beverage carts, slipping on galley floors, handling heavy carry-on baggage and exposure to waste.
Flight attendant and AFA Safety and Health Representative Michelle Morris relayed a story from a report she received at her airline, "A passenger had vomited all over the galley in the rear of the aircraft ... cleaners were requested. In the meantime, the catering company came on board and filled the vomit-coated cabinets with food and drink ... they sprayed the galley cabinets and floor with deodorant spray but did not wipe away the vomit. The flight attendants were expected to serve the meals, pour the drinks, and smile as if nothing happened."
The group also expressed that radiation exposure is a particular concern this year and possible exposure to HIV and Hepatitis is always a risk, since flight attendants must provide in-flight emergency care including mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to passengers.
"Last August, I came down with Hepatitis A while working on a charter flight carrying refugees from Macedonia to the United States," said Kristin Ring, a 14-year flight attendant. "There were a large number of orphans on the flight. The refugees did not speak English and did not understand that the lavatories were not designed for disposable diapers. As a result, the lavatories clogged up but continued to be used leaving them in a terribly unsanitary condition."
"The smell on that flight was overbearing," continued Ring. "After the first hour, I put my uniform scarf over my mouth and nose in an attempt to block some of the smell. Incidentally, this is not so unusual."
AFA is calling on FAA Administrator Jane Garvey to extend OSHA protections to flight attendants.
The appeal was signed by the leaders of dozens of organizations, including AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, National Organization for Women President Patricia Ireland and former NIOSH Director Jack Finklea.
Also joining the coalition are a number of experts in aviation and workplace safety.
The coalition plans to hold a "Day of Action" at airports across the country to pressure President Clinton to act quickly before additional workers suffer injuries.
"We've been emboldened by the World Trade Organization demonstrations in Seattle and the lessons learned there," said AFA's International President Friend. "We will use our collective strength to pressure the Clinton Administration to give us the protections we need and deserve."