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Hawaii Union Asks Hotels To Grant Workers Use Of Virus Masks

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Hawaii's largest union representing hotel workers has asked resort executives to allow employees to wear surgical masks as protection against a new virus, officials said.

Unite Here Local 5 organizers contacted hotels where the union’s 12,000 members are employed, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Thursday.

The viral outbreak that began in China had infected more than 14,550 people globally as of Feb. 2.

The union asked the lodging industry to accommodate employee requests to wear masks to protect themselves.

“We expect the hotels to cooperate with their workers who are concerned about their health and safety,” said Bryant de Venecia, a communications organizer with Local 5.

De Venecia does not expect significant resistance from the hotel industry because there was widespread cooperation during previous health scares, including the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the H1N1 swine flu pandemic of 2009, he said.

“But you never know," he said. "Some ownerships have changed over the last five years,” de Venecia said.

No laws prevent employers from restricting the use of masks by employees at the workplace, according to the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Hawaiian Airlines last week declined to let flight attendants wear masks while on duty.

“It’s a real misstep and lost opportunity,” said Jaci-Ann Chung of the Honolulu base of the Association of Flight Attendants.

Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Alex Da Silva said the company is in favor of any measures that are proven effective.

“Masks are not one of them,” he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only recommends the use of masks when assisting a passenger who may be showing symptoms of being ill, Da Silva said in a statement.

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