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Working in Power: Former Airport Employee Rises Above Anti-Union Bosses

Queens, NY – St. John’s University Journalism major Giovahn Dejoie, 19, had high hopes when he moved to Queens and started working at Eulen American in the fall of 2019. But less than four months into his job as a JFK Airport baggage handler, Dejoie started to see red flags.

St. John’s University student Giovahn Dejoie, 19, is working his way through school and standing up for worker rights along the way.

“One of the first things was pushing two wheelchairs at a time as a baggage handler,” he says. “A lot of times they were understaffed and I just knew there was something wrong about that.”

To Dejoie, suddenly leaving his job as a baggage handler to work as a wheelchair attendant attempting to simultaneously juggle two clients at once, didn’t seem all that safe. 

Eulen America, an airline contractor that provides baggage handlers, wheelchair agents, cabin cleaners and customer service representatives for airlines including America Airlines, trains its workers for multiple functions — but no one trained the young Dejoie to responsibly manage multiple patrons at the same time. 

“A lot of time there would be missing hours in people’s paychecks, the management in general belittled everyone and it was demeaning,” Dejoie adds. “It felt like free labor instead of an actual job. There was favoritism for different employees and they were very manipulative as well.”

Months after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the CROWN Act into law, Dejoie says he was openly disparaged for getting new dreadlocks.

“One of the managers said I can’t clock in because my hair looked like I just woke up,” he says. 

Instead of having the issue resolved by Human Resources, Eulen America exacerbated the situation, according to Dejoie. 

“When you have an HR department, you think they are there to help you and that they are an unbiased place,” Dejoie says. “A lot of time, it felt like it was HR management against the employees. The policies that we were facing were not practiced all around.”

Dejoie says it often felt like the management team was treated better then overworked employees.  

“A lot of times when my manager asked me to push two wheelchairs, I had the right to say no,” Dejoie says. “Then she would be like, ‘You have the right to say no, but if there is retaliation you can’t get mad at me for that.’ It felt like you were obligated to do so. They didn’t out right threaten you — it was more like if you don’t do this, there might be cuts.”

The only time management was ever nice, according to Dejoie, was when he returned from vacation and learned about the strong anti-union stance the company had taken against co-workers attempting to unionize with 32BJ SEIU.

“I came back from a vacation I was forced to take early,” Dejoie says. “Later on in my shift, [my manager] asked me if I was signing any union cards. But I pretended I wasn’t, and that I didn’t know what she was talking about. Then she said don’t sign it because “It’s not going to do anything for you.'” 

Dejoie believes the company was anti-union because they knew their habit of “losing” employees overtime pay and wages, allegedly due to a work app — was wrong.

“They had this Kronos app that they said was malfunctioning,” Dejoie says. “Employees lost one day of wages as though nobody had came to work that day.”

Once, after his paycheck was shorted — Dejoie had to forego getting a Mother’s Day gift for his mom.

“I had over $100 missing from my check,” he says. “I’m at another job now, and I don’t mind overtime because I’m in an environment where I feel comfortable and I enjoy working with the people that I work with.”

Still, working for Eulen America took a toll on the 19-year-old. 

“I remember I used to have to mentally prepare myself for work because it was a very toxic environment,” he says. “I just wanted to be in and out. I thought working at the airport would be a good and stable job.”

Dejoie was living with his grandmother at the time, while attending St. John’s University. He wanted to support himself and pay for his own tuition, books, car and other expenses. 

He even briefly considered abandoning his studies for a career in the airline industry.

“My mother was a flight attendant and that’s why I gravitated there,” Dejoie says. “The only reason I left [the airport job] was because of the way I was treated — and the energy was mentally taxing.”

Dejoie’s grades suffered greatly while he toiled for Eulen. He also turned down an opportunity to join the school’s Division I fencing team because he felt he needed to work more. 

“When I was at school, I was dreading going to work,” Dejoie says. “I had to get out of their — ASAP!”

Dejoie was so mentally drained that, one day, he just decided he was not going back to work, and simply didn’t show up. 

“For eight months, they didn’t even give me the respect as a basic employee,” he says. “So, quite frankly, they didn’t deserve the respect to know that I wasn’t coming back. My new job is like being at heaven and walking on sunshine.”

Dejoie is now happily working at a Blink Fitness in Valley Stream and expects to graduate from St. John’s University in 2022. He is also thrilled that Eulen America recently decided to settle a lawsuit with its employees.

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