Lands’ End is standing by the quality of its uniforms for Delta employees, despite recent lawsuits against the apparel company by 500 staffers, who allege the Zac Posen-designed uniforms triggered health issues.
A company spokeswoman said Monday, “For over 50 years, Lands’ End has been a trusted supplier of workplace apparel and uniforms to American corporations. The uniforms at issue here have been in use for nearly two years, have been extensively tested multiple times by independent laboratories and have been found both safe and fit for their purpose. Because this matter is in litigation, we regret that we cannot comment further.”
About 40,000 Delta employees — flight attendants, above-wing and below-wing workers — started wearing the new uniforms in May 2018. As employees have reported issues with different garments, Delta has offered different resolutions, a Delta spokesman said Monday. “For some people that has worked. For other people, that might not have worked,” he said.
Employees have the “black and white option,” which allows them to use a stipend to purchase an off-the-rack alternative instead of the Delta-issued uniform. “Also, we just announced that we have created a new gray suit that will be rolled out in the second half of this year. That’s still manufactured by Lands’ End,” the Delta spokesman said. The airline will be testing that suit, he added.
Whether or not that was part of Posen’s original designs was not immediately known, nor was the status of his deal with Delta. “Our toxicology reports confirmed that the uniforms meet the highest textiles standards by Oeko-Tex. There was one piece — an optional apron, you never had to have the apron. They pulled it out of the collection but the other pieces met the highest standards…we’re still working with our employees to identify what specifically may be the cause for any issues they may be having with respect to wearing the previous uniforms,” the Delta spokesman said.
The controversy is expected to escalate since 400 additional Delta employees have contacted the Jacksonville, Fla.-based law firm Terrell Hogan, according to lead attorney Bruce Maxwell. To that end, a motion to amend the complaint with the additional names should be filed in Wisconsin federal court. He claimed that Terrell Hogan received 1,500 calls from Delta employees prior to the recent filing, but only 500 of them followed through with contracts and have been named in the lawsuit. Maxwell said Monday, “The others that are out there, for whatever reason, [they] haven’t returned them. Some could be due to fear of job security and the unknown. I think people are finally getting past that, because I believe there is strength in numbers. And there are a lot of them. We think at the end of the day, there are going to be thousands who are affected by this adversely.”
Neither Delta nor Posen are involved in the lawsuits.
Workers reportedly cited rashes, difficulty breathing, blisters and blurred vision among other ailments allegedly caused by wearing the uniforms. From Maxwell’s standpoint, the only temporary solution is, “Recall those uniforms — all of them — especially the ones for the flight attendants.” By his account, traces of formaldehyde and fluorine, which are “known carcinogens, if they are in too great amounts,” have been found in the Delta uniforms. “We have testing that that’s the case.”
Delta has allowed employees to go back to “the black and white,” which is similar to what the previous uniform was, according to the attorney. However, employees who are wearing alternatives to the new uniforms can still be affected just by being in close proximity to others, who are wearing the new uniform, he claimed. “Others are still wearing these uniforms and they’re reacting to them. The dye on these uniforms is wearing off on the jump seats, on the seatbelts. It will get on undergarments, on bedsheets,” Maxwell alleged.
Describing the Delta employees dealing with uniform-related issues, as “proximity reactors,” Maxwell said, “Essentially, that means that so much has gotten into their systems and [their] immune system can’t fight it. That’s a problem — that’s a huge problem, and that’s a permanent problem in all likelihood. That’s why we’re seeking, in all likelihood, to have a medical monitoring fund created — a medical trust for people in the future, who have problems.”
While Posen designed the uniforms, he did not manufacture them. A spokeswoman for Posen did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
Posen generated an abundance of publicity, when the deal was announced in 2015. The terms were not disclosed at that time, but industry sources said designers typically earn between $400,000 and $1 million for designing uniforms for domestic airlines. Posen’s designs were wear-tested in 2017 before being rolled out the following year. Delta staffers started airing their health-related grievances a year ago. Six thousand Delta flight attendants posted about the issue on a Facebook page that has since been archived, according to Maxwell, who noted that Delta gate agents and SkyClub representatives have also been affected by the problem.
Posen was believed to have been informed about the grievances last year. In November, the designer closed his signature company. At that time Yucaipa Cos. had been looking to sell its stake in Posen’s company and talks with potential buyers fell through. Last month Centric Brands reportedly acquired the Zac Posen trademark at auction. He remains creative director for Brooks Brothers’ women’s collection, a company spokeswoman confirmed Monday.
The Association of Flight Attendants, which represents 50,000 flight attendants across 20 airlines, is testing the Delta uniforms for toxins and the organization has put out a call for unworn garments preferably still in unopened shipping bags and boxes. Uniforms have been an issue at Alaska Airlines, and American Airlines, and “now Delta where we have fought for alternative uniforms and in some cases a complete reissue,” an AFA spokeswoman said.
In June 2018, AFA and one of its members filed a lawsuit against the uniform manufacturers TwinHill and Aramark, and American Airlines. This Proposition 65 lawsuit was filed in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, Calif. The lawsuit, which is still in the discovery phase, named TwinHill and Aramark, their suppliers Tailored Brands and PVH Corp., and American Airlines as defendants.
Referring to the Delta employees’ lawsuit, AFA president Sara Nelson said, “This issue is real. It affects different people in different ways and the reactions can vary in severity with symptoms such as rashes, headaches, hair loss, and breathing problems when wearing the uniform to becoming so sensitized to the chemicals that it’s impossible to even be in the same space without getting extremely sick. The Association of Flight Attendants knows this issue well. We will continue to support Delta Flight Attendants for health and safety in the workplace.”