Union Claims Blankets and Headsets Carry Germs

N E W A R K, N.J., Nov. 20, 2000 -- Blankets, pillowcases and headphones handedout to airline passengers are not always washed after every use andmay harbor dangerous germs, a union trying to organize laundry workersclaimed today.

A medical expert questioned the likelihood of contracting adisease from unwashed linen or headsets.

Workers at Royal Airline Laundry plants around the country,serving more than 150 airlines, are told to repackage the items ifthey don’t appear dirty, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial andTextile Employees said.

E. Coli Living in Headsets

“This laundry company has been trying to cut costs, and as aresult they put passengers of airlines at risk,” said Ira Stern,New Jersey director for the union. Stern said his union represents200 of Royal’s 500 workers and is seeking to organize others.

Officials of Royal, based in Inwood, N.Y., had no immediatecomment.

Stern conceded that the union had not identified any passengerswho sickened by unclean linen or headsets.

The union handed out copies of its study at 20 airports aroundthe country. It said tests found linens and headsets contaminatedwith bacteria that included E. coli, which can cause meningitis andother ailments.

However, Dr. Russell Rayman, director of the Aerospace MedicalAssociation, said infection is highly unlikely.

“I have not seen any reports in our literature regarding thelaundering and cleaning of headsets and blankets, and anyassociation with illness,” Rayman said.

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