Airplane cleaners allege discrimination at Logan

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, OCT. 17, 2012….Flights into Logan International Airport arrive from all over the world, but according to two complaints, a company hired to clean some airplanes took a hard line against workers speaking Haitian Creole.

“It’s discrimination,” said Charles Pierre, a Lynn resident who came to the area in March 2010, shortly after a devastating earthquake that killed his mother.

Pierre told the News Service that his manager at Flight Services and Systems, a company hired by airlines, sent him home for speaking Creole in the office. Pierre said he and a friend were signing in outside the office, when he told his friend in Creole, “Let’s go. You took too much time.”

A manager allegedly asked for Pierre’s badge, telling him he has to speak English at the airport, and then told him he was suspended for insubordination because he had been told not to speak Haitian Creole at the airport.

“He doesn’t care when the other coworkers speak their language, but when people speak Creole he has problem,” Pierre said. The same day he was suspended, Sept. 27, another Haitian speaker named Djovanna Dorce was fired by Flight Services and Systems because she spoke her native language of Haitian Creole at the airport, according to Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 615.

Flight Services and Systems employs about 400 people at Logan. According to the SEIU, the company handles some security work, as well as cabin cleaning and wheelchair services.

Pierre and Dorce have filed complaints with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. Pierre said he has not yet heard back. Flight Services and Systems did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Members of the Haitian American Forum and employees of the contractor are planning to attend Thursday’s meeting of the Massachusetts Port Authority Board of Directors. While Massport runs Logan, the airlines there privately contract with Flight Services and Systems.

“These workers are not employed by Massport. They are employed by FSS, a company which contracts with airlines,” Massport said in a statement. “Massport does not condone discrimination in any form and we are eager to review the MCAD findings. The Board will be interested in hearing what the workers have to say tomorrow and Massport meets regularly with SEIU representatives to discuss their concerns.”

On its website, FSS expresses pride in the diversity of its workforce.

“What makes a great company? At FSS, we believe it's the people that work here,” a statement says. “That is why we have built a diverse workforce that brings a world of different talents to our company.”

Pierre said the workers who clean the galleys and seating area of airplanes speak a panoply of languages, including French, Spanish, Aramaic, and Arabic but alleged that only the Haitian speakers are reprimanded for the English-only policy. Conversely, Pierre said, he has been asked to help staff communicate with Haitian speaking passengers.

The English-speaking manager whom Pierre accused of discrimination has allegedly told people that he does not like Haitians. According to Pierre, he heard from a Moroccan coworker that his boss said he doesn’t like Haitians, but he was skeptical. Then when Dorce was fired, he allegedly told her at one point, “You know that’s why I don’t like Haitian people,” according to Pierre.

Logan was the scene of other discrimination charges this August, when the New York Times revealed that several Transportation Security Administration officials said racial profiling had become widespread at the airport, as officers thought it would help them meet quotas.

It is also not the first allegation against FFS. Three employees of the company’s operation at Rochester International Airport sued the company over alleged discrimination and retaliation. Among the complaints, two employees were told not to speak Spanish amongst each other because it bothered the non-Spanish speaking employees, according to information provided by the SEIU.

FFS provides a variety of services for airlines and airports, at 24 locations throughout the country.

Pierre described a recent case where a Haitian woman was fired from the company’s Logan operation. He said the woman had put a pair of eyeglasses she found on the plane in the trash, and was reprimanded. When she put the eyeglasses in her vest pocket, a manager accused her of stealing, Pierre said.

Pierre, who said he has picked up a little Aramaic at work, said that speaking Creole is more comfortable for him, but he speaks English with managers and with non-Haitian speakers. Pierre still works at FFS, which he started working at in February.

Asked if the incident made him angry, Pierre said, “Yes, I’m angry but I don’t put my anger in my job. I leave my anger at home. When I start work, I do my job.”