The day after Independence Day, workers cleaning a large Pratt & Whitney shop in East Hartford threw away dozens of small U.S. flags, two POW-MIA flags and one U.S. Marine Corps flag that union members kept near their workbenches.
Ray Hernandez, a spokesman for Pratt & Whitney, a major defense contractor which counts more than 2,500 U.S. veterans in its workforce, said that POW-MIA and U.S. Marine Corps flags were discarded inadvertently during cleaning and maintenance last Friday.
“The employees received apologies for the mishap, and the company is providing them new replacement flags,” he said. “Among other discarded items, approximately 30
Four Pratt employees told The Courant that the flags were thrown away without warning. “There have been times that we’ve been told that they would removed fridges or toaster ovens,” one employee said. “But not one where we would have to remove our flags.”
Union members also said that a number of fans and small refrigerators were also taken from the shop floor, in addition to the U.S. flags, two POW-MIA flags, and one U.S. Marine Corps flag.
The group of union workers, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, said that the sweep of the East Hartford engine repair and overhaul facility — known as Building M — happened while hourly employees were on a company-mandated vacation.
The first thing that many workers noticed walking back into the non-air-conditioned building Monday morning was that their fans, even one that was chained down, were missing.
In their place were smaller models that didn’t seem to push as much air, employees said, although Hernandez said the approximately 200 new fans were an upgrade to “industrial use.”
The employees, some of whom describe their work in patriotic overtones, said the missing flags and their untimely disposal were the main issue. They noticed that flags were taken from their work benches, sticking of out their tool boxes or from nearby support columns. There was a meeting about the disappearance, from which the workers learned of the flags’ disposal.
Steve Merrick, the Machinists union’s business representative, said that the person who ordered the flags to be discarded should be disciplined.
“If someone took the American flag and threw it in the garbage … something should happen,” he said. “Take the flag out of it: It’s a bunch of people’s personal property. Who are you to authorize someone else to take people’s property and throw it in the garbage?”
During a meeting Monday, one longtime Pratt employee asked how she could recover her missing property and was told that it was gone, the employee said. A retiring coworker gave her the small flag 13 years ago when he cleaned out his work bench on his last day of work. Until last week, that flag poked out of a small hole in her yellow toolbox.
Another employee, an Air Force veteran who inspects engine parts, had a flag taken that was taped above his workbench. He received the flag from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, after sending in a donation.
Even though the flag was taken, he said, his work area still has a fake red poppy, a sign of remembrance from World War I.
Many were particularly bothered about the disappearance of the bench-side fans.
One employee, who lost two fans and one small U.S. flag., said the person or persons who cleaned the shop went as far as cutting the chain that bound one fan to his workbench. He said the replacement fans were weaker than the previous ones.
hand-held, parade-sized American flags were disposed of in the trash.” That method of disposing the small flags, Hernandez said, was chosen only after guidance from several military experts.
Those personal items, the workers were told Monday by management, were put into a dumpster.
By Brian Dowling, Hartford Courant