Flight Attendant Union Slams New CDC Covid Guidelines That Airline CEOs Supported
(Bloomberg) -- Hours after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its quarantine guidelines for people who test positive for or are exposed to Covid-19, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International pushed back against the new guidance.
The CDC now recommends that people who test positive for the coronavirus need only isolate for five days if they’re no longer symptomatic, and should wear a mask around others for the following five days. The CDC also shortened quarantine timelines for people who come into contact with someone who tested positive. The changes may help minimize disruption for schools, businesses and supply chains as cases rise nationwide.
Sara Nelson, the president of the AFA, said in a statement that the changes may give businesses cover for putting staffing needs ahead of worker health.
“The CDC gave a medical explanation about why the agency has decided to reduce the quarantine requirements from 10 to five days, but the fact that it aligns with the number of days pushed by corporate America is less than reassuring,” Nelson said in the statement.
Several airlines have in recent days asked CDC director Rochelle Walensky to reconsider the 10-day isolation guideline. In a letter dated Dec. 21, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian noted that the mandate would impact Delta’s staffing and operations. JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes called the 10-day mandate “extremely disruptive” in a Dec. 22 letter, and the lobbying group Airlines For America also advocated for a five-day maximum quarantine in a Dec. 23 missive.
Returning to Work
Nelson expressed concerns that the five-day timeline will mean flight attendants may be forced to return to work before they’re fully recovered and risk being exposed to contagious individuals who don’t comply with mask guidelines.
“If any business pressures a worker to return to work before they feel better we will make clear it is an unsafe work environment, which will cause a much greater disruption than any 'staffing shortages,’” she said.
Nelson called on members of Congress to support paid sick leave policies to keep workers safe and reduce pressure to return to work sick. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 22% of U.S. workers did not have access to paid sick leave policies as of March 2020.
About 4,000 flights were canceled between Dec. 25 and Dec 27, due to a mix of weather delays and staffing issues. The disruptions extended into Tuesday, with 1,000 U.S. flights canceled as of 1:15 p.m. New York time, according to data from FlightAware.com. United Airlines Holdings Inc. said 93 of its 129 cancellations Tuesday were due to workers ill with Covid-19 or in quarantine.
Major airlines have said their staffs are largely vaccinated. And while Anthony Fauci, the President’s chief medical advisor, said on Monday that it was “reasonable to consider” a vaccination mandate for domestic flights in the U.S., the lobbying group Airlines for America said it has been told there are no immediate plans to implement such a requirement.
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