As Women’s Month ends, let’s stop wage theft at Logan Airport

Airline contractors like FSS leave female workers with unpaid hours

Marlisa Thompson was happy when FSS  an airline contractor that does work for JetBlue, Lufthansa, and British Airways  hired her in 2014 as a security guard at Logan Airport. “I was just so excited, because, wow, if you get in at the airport, that’s a plus,” she said.  

 But her excitement soon dwindled. She was on her feet for shifts as long as 9 hours with no breaks. Her pay was often short, with paychecks regularly listing her as having worked fewer hours than she actually did. Fed up, Marlisa quit at FSS and found a job elsewhere. 

 In 2017, Marlisa was looking for work again, and decided to give FSS another shot after hearing that working conditions had improved. But soon, she began experiencing the same problems as before—long, exhausting shifts without breaks, and missing hours on her paychecks.  

Instead of quitting this time, Marlisa took action. She started writing down her hours and keeping track of every time she didn’t get her break. She went to the FSS office at the airport and demanded the pay she was owed. Management told her to put it in writing and they would take care of it, so she did.  

To this day, Marlisa says she has never seen any of that money. “The managers always tell me: ‘Oh Marlisa, you’re the best guard. Don’t leave.’ Okay, if I’m your best guard then you need to pay me what I’m owed. Why do I have to come to the office every pay period and talk to a manager about my missing pay?” 

In January 2019, Marlisa filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Attorney General, detailing the dozens of times she’d worked nine-plus hour shifts without breaks, multiple times she had been paid less than the Massachusetts minimum wage, and some hours that FSS had just never paid her for at all. In addition to needing her pay in order to keep her household running, Marlisa is helping put one of her children through college while helping another of her children care for a new baby. She and her family need every dollar that she has worked so hard for. 

She is far from the only one. Currently, there are 17 wage theft claims against FSS pending at the AG’s office, and a Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) audit documented more than 1,000 wage violations by the contractor in 2017. These reports only chronicle the experiences of the workers who have come forward—it’s impossible to know if there were more employees who were too afraid of retaliation to file a complaint, or who decided to just find a new job and try to put this one behind them like Marlisa did in 2014. 

Boston isn’t the only place where FSS workers have experienced wage and hour violations. Nationwide, the airline contractor has been a defendant in several suits and has been ordered or agreed to pay over $1 million in wage theft settlements, resolutions and fines since 2006.  

Yet, Massport executives seem to have absolved themselves of responsibility when it comes to this contractor. The agency’s own operating agreement with contractors states that “the operator shall observe and obey…all applicable federal, state and municipal laws [and] regulations.” Yet, the consequences for failing to uphold their side of this deal seem to be nonexistent for FSS. 

Multiple studies have shown that wage theft is largely an issue for the working poor, especially women, minorities, non-U.S. citizens and non-union workers, meaning the very people who can’t afford to lose even a dollar of pay are the ones getting short-changed. A 2017 study by the Economic Policy Institute found that the wage and hour violations U.S. workers face add up to billions of dollars lost every year, and a 2016 report by Community Labor United examines the depth of the problem in Massachusetts. 

This is a problem that goes beyond the people facing wage theft. It hurts local economies by pushing families below the poverty line and forcing them to rely on public assistance. By these practices, FSS is not only hurting our airport workers, it’s hurting Boston. 

Part of the reason why women are more vulnerable to wage theft is because they dominate low-wage jobs, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Nationwide, women make up two thirds of workers in jobs that typically pay less than $11.50 per hour. In Massachusetts, 19.9 percent of women have low-wage jobs, compared to 10.1 percent of men, making a working woman in our state two times more likely to have a low-wage job than a working man. In addition to paying less, these jobs also tend to be the ones with less security and steadiness—the kind where a manager can change a worker’s schedule at whim, as FSS managers have also done, or skimp on her pay. 

When people talk about the gender pay gap, they’re often talking about white-collar women making less than their male counterparts for the same jobs. Any practice that perpetuates gender inequality is wrong, and we must end it once and for all. But as elected officials representing mostly working-class, immigrant, communities of color, women like Marlisa are who we think about when we talk about wage inequality. These are the people with the least amount of power in our society, the ones who are disenfranchised not just as women but also as people of color, immigrants, low-wage workers, or all of those things at once. These are the women who are too afraid to share their stories publicly because they can’t afford to lose their jobs—indeed, many of Marlisa’s co-workers are too scared to speak publicly. 

Meet the Author

Lydia Edwards

City councilor , City of Boston
These are often the women who we, as a society, forget about when we work to make change. As women’s month comes to a close, let’s recall we need to fight for dignity, respect and safety alongside the women employed by FSS. Logan Airport is a key part of our local economy, and Massport has a responsibility to demand that all companies that want to do business here need to follow the law and benefit our communities. They need to hold all contractors accountable to our city, our communities, and workers like Marlisa who keep airport passengers safe each and every day. Contractors like FSS should follow the law or get out of Logan. 

Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards represents District One, comprising East Boston, Charlestown and the North End.