Philly airport workers seek stronger safeguards against disease

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In light of the Ebola crisis in West Africa, labor leaders and elected officials are demanding that Philadelphia and its airport provide subcontracted workers better protection against infectious diseases.

While the risk of catching Ebola at Philadelphia International Airport is very low – the city does not have any direct flights to West Africa – advocates and airport workers say that the outbreak reminds workers that they’re in harm’s way no matter the disease.

“When we clean an airplane cabin, we have no masks, we have no goggles, we have no facial shields, we have no shoe covers and we have no waterproof gowns. We’re given latex gloves, but the gloves are very thin and rip easily,” said Anthony Reynolds, who cleans cabins at the airport.

Reynolds shared his story during a wet, Wednesday afternoon news conference outside of Terminal B/C.

At Reynolds’ side, City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., who recently held a hearing on Ebola preparedness, said employees shouldn’t have to work that way.

“This virus doesn’t know hierarchy. It doesn’t know the CEO from the person doing the cabins in the airplane. It will attack whomever,” said Jones. “So if you think you’re protecting the hierarchy within the organization, without protecting the rank and file, you’re being pennywise and pound-foolish.”

The city, which leases gates to individual airlines, referred questions to the airport.

An airport spokeswoman says it follows all CDC protocols around Ebola and that the risk is very low.

Wednesday’s news conference unfolded as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that travelers from Ebola-affected countries – Sierra Leone, Liberia or Guinea, must now arrive at one of five airports.

They are O’Hare in Chicago, JFK in New York, Atlanta, Newark and Washington’s Dulles.

The World Health Organization has recorded nearly 5,000 Ebola deaths.

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