Photographer: Mark Elias/Bloomberg

American Airlines Drops Uniform Supplier Amid Health Fears

  • Flight attendants, pilots complained of rashes, wheezing
  • Clothing maker cites ‘reputational risk’ from contract

American Airlines Group Inc. will find a new supplier to make uniforms for 70,000 employees, following thousands of complaints by flight attendants who said the current outfits were making them ill.

The carrier is selecting a new provider and won’t renew its contract with Twin Hill, a unit of Tailored Brands Inc., American said in a letter to employees Wednesday. Attendants, pilots and customer service agents received new uniforms starting in September. Selecting new suppliers for so many employees will take as many as three years, according to the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier, which didn’t provide a cost estimate.

American’s move could contain a controversy that has festered for months, as the number of flight attendants complaining of wheezing, fatigue, skin rashes and other ailments grew to more than 3,500 and pilots also reported adverse reactions. It marks the second time in two months that the world’s largest airline has made an unusual concession to workers, following an April decision to grant pilots and flight attendants mid-contract pay raises.

“We need a long-term solution because the current approach simply does not work,” American said of the decision to drop Twin Hill.

The clothing maker, a sister brand to Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank, said it worked closely with American on employees’ concerns, that their symptoms weren’t related to its uniforms and that not renewing the contract was a mutual decision.

“Twin Hill has determined that the reputational risk, management distraction, and legal and other costs associated with serving American in the future would be unacceptable to our business,” the company said by email. Tailored Brands’ stock closed Wednesday at $9.66, down 66 percent from last year’s peak on Dec. 21.

Global Supplier

Complaints that employees fell ill after wearing the uniforms confounded American and Twin Hill, which performed tests and said they were unable to find a source for the maladies. The garments came from the same fabric sources and factories as those used for millions of other corporate togs worldwide, Twin Hill said.

While flight attendants filed the most complaints, pilots also reported rashes, itching and other symptoms. American attempted to alleviate employees’ concerns by offering options to replace uniform pieces, including a choice of standard wool, polyester and cotton versions. The airline also reached a deal with supplier Aramark for “off the shelf” uniforms.

Those choices weren’t acceptable long-term solutions, said Marcy Dunaway, national secretary of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.

“This is exactly what we’ve been pushing for,” she said. “APFA made it clear that nothing short of a complete replacement would be acceptable.”

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