Its ranks hit hard by COVID-19, all ramp workers for American Airlines and its regional carrier, Envoy, are now having their temperature taken at DFW Airport in a race to stop the spread of the deadly virus, NBC 5 Investigates has learned.
DFW Airport is the first airport in the country where American is checking the temperature for all of its ramp workers before they start their shifts, both in the terminals and on the ground.
The changes came just days after an NBC 5 Investigates report that revealed dozens of baggage handlers and airplane cabin cleaners at DFW had tested positive for COVID-19, with two deaths believed to be caused by COVID-19.
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In that report, ramp workers questioned whether more could have been done to protect them from the virus.
About 40 American ramp workers have so far tested positive, 27 of those cases at Envoy, according to officials with the union that represents them.
American declined to confirm those numbers.
Envoy ramp worker Glenmar Gabriel, 37, died, with his family telling NBC 5 Investigates they got word a day later that he’d tested positive for the virus.
Gary Peterson, international vice president of the Transport Workers Union, said the union is attempting to learn how many of the sick employees worked close to one another.
“We can’t undo what happened, but we certainly can try to prevent it going forward and learn from what’s happened,” Peterson said.
“Were they in the same break room or were they working on the same crew in the belly of an airplane,” he said. “Just trying to piece together what happened so they really can identify and protect it going forward.”
In exclusive reports, several ramp workers told NBC 5 Investigates they felt American was too slow in providing protective masks and dividing its employees into safe distances.
One of them was C.J. Thomas, fresh off a ventilator, who nearly died from COVID-19.
“We are the ones that, you know, make that company go around. And you know, I think they should have protected us more,” Thomas said from his hospital bed.
Both American and Envoy said they provided masks to ramp workers once the CDC recommended them and have removed furniture from break rooms to allow for social distancing.
In a statement, American said: “The safety of our team members remains our highest priority. In addition to following all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, we continue to coordinate closely with public health officials to adopt and explore new expanded health and safety measures. At DFW, this includes providing face masks and temperature tests for airport team members.”
There’s no way to determine for sure whether the workers caught the virus while on the job.
But the union representing them said they need all the protection they can get because they are exposed to luggage, flight crews, and passengers.
“We need protection because we don’t know what we’re dealing with,” Peterson said.
American told NBC 5 Investigates it is starting to implement the temperature checks at another major airport hub and, if things go smoothly, it will consider expanding the checks to its airport employees – including pilots and flight attendants -- throughout the country.