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Are American Airlines' uniforms making employees sick?

AA uniform mystery
AA uniform mystery 03:45

Many American Airlines workers say new uniforms are making them sick and they want the company to do more to help.

More than 3,000 flight attendants and about 200 pilots have filed reports complaining that their uniforms have caused rashes, hives and breathing problems.

From workers at the ticket counter to flight crews in the cockpit, 70,000 American Airlines employees donned their new uniforms last September. The complaints flooded in soon after.

For those who've experienced problems, the carrier offers a number of alternatives. But so far, American hasn't given them what they really want: A full recall, reports CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave. 

The uniforms debuted last fall, with American touting how it included employees in the process. 

Flight attendant Joshua Scarpuzzi pieces together his outfit with items like a Banana Republic pair of grey pants and a Calvin Klein white shirt to match the look of the company-issued uniform he blames for causing itching -- and worse.

"I just couldn't even like come to grips with the fact that a uniform could be causing this," Scarpuzzi said.

The flight attendant's eyes swelled shut. "And then I ended up in the ER, yeah," Scarpuzzi said.

"Talking to my regular doctor, he pretty much said, 'Well, this isn't an allergic reaction, this is chemicals. This is a chemical reaction that's burning your skin, that's irritating your body," Scarpuzzi said. 

Some of the thousands who have filed complaints have shared similar stories and photos on social media. But separate testing by American, the flight attendants' union and the manufacturer have all shown chemical levels are within acceptable limits.

The airline reports it's spent more than $1 million to investigate what's going on -- but with no clear answer. Flight attendants are demanding a recall. 

"If we can't find out what the problem is and we are actually having these reactions, then I think that that's the next step," said Bob Ross, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. 

"We don't want any employee to wear a uniform that they are not comfortable with," said Hector Adler, senior vice president of product and service delivery with American.  

He says the airline has offered a number of alternatives: allowing workers to wear their old uniforms, reimbursing them for purchasing look-alike items and providing uniforms with different materials. They're in the process of rolling out new uniforms from a different manufacturer. 

"Why not recall the uniforms? Why not just start over with that new option?" Van Cleave asked.

"Let me say that, right now, we are focused on getting this right, and working with individuals on a case-by-case basis to address their concerns," Adler said

But Scarpuzzi says they're not addressing all of his concerns.

"I'm still next to people who are wearing the uniform. When I sit on my jump seat, I try to give a couple inches of space between me and the other person because my first trip back after my ER visit, I got a rash, just from sitting next to someone wearing it," Scarpuzzi said.

On whether he feels it's worth it to continue working for the airline if it's risking his health, Scarpuzzi said, "I believe in American and I believe that they're going to do what's right for their employees and for the business. I'm willing to stick around to wait and see just how they address this issue."

The same manufacturer who made Americans' new uniforms faced similar complaints a few years ago by flight attendants with Alaska Airlines. Flight attendants unsuccessfully sued the company. In a statement, Twin Hill told CBS News it "has yet to receive any medical or scientific evidence indicating there is anything unsafe about the uniforms."

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