In August, Ford announced it would pay up to $10.1 million to settle a racial- and sexual-harassment investigation at two Chicago plants. There were almost no details, but Ford said it “took appropriate action” against those violating policy. But as an extensive and damning New York Times investigation found, it wasn’t that simple.
More than a dozen women came forward to detail accounts of harassment, groping, intimidation and even being coerced into sexual activities by coworkers and supervisors alike, according to the Times. What’s worse, many of the women reported little to no help from union officials or male colleagues, and many workers opted to keep quiet simply because they had a good-paying they badly needed and likely could not find elsewhere.
From the Times’ in-depth investigation, “How a Culture of Harassment Persisted on Ford’s Factory Floors,” published Tuesday:
At a moment when so many people are demanding that sexual harassment no longer be tolerated, the story of the Ford plants shows the challenges of transforming a culture.
Ford has worked to combat harassment at the plants, including recently stepping up disciplinary efforts and installing new leadership. But over the years the company did not act aggressively or consistently enough to root out the problem, according to interviews with more than 100 current and former employees and industry experts, and a review of legal documents.
[...] Those who complained said they faced retaliation from co-workers and bosses. Some women were frightened after harassers warned them to watch their backs. An Army veteran who accused a man of groping her was physically blocked by his friends from doing her work, she said. Later she found her car tires slashed in the parking lot.
Ford officials say that they have a strict policy against retaliation, and that supervisors who exact retribution will be disciplined. But “when you speak up,” Ms. Gray said, “you’re like mud in the plant.”
The plants implicated are the Chicago Assembly Plant and the Chicago Stamping Plant. The former makes the Ford Taurus and Explorer, the latter makes body panels. About 5,000 people work at those plants.
Ford said in August that it took appropriate action against claimed harassment, “including disciplinary action up to and including dismissal for individuals who violated the company’s anti-harassment policy.”
But the Times discovered that wasn’t the whole story, and a lot of those people didn’t face threat of dismissal until decades after women came forward about them. From the story:
Even if investigators could not verify some individual accusations, company officials often failed to consider patterns of behavior, workers and lawyers say. Keith Hunt, the lawyer who represented women in the 1990s and today, described cases of four men who were the subject of numerous complaints by women dating back years — in one instance three decades ago — but were fired only in the last few years. Julie Lavender, director of personnel relations and employee policies, said that Ford now gave more weight to multiple complaints.
Horrifying claims of sexual harassment in all kinds of fields have been going around lately, and it’s no different in this case. Here’s one from the Times:
But after a man Ms. Wright had trusted as a mentor made a crack about paying her $5 for oral sex, she asked her union representative for help. He began what she calls a “don’t-file-a-claim-against-Bill” campaign: Her co-worker would lose his job, his benefits, his pension, she was told. Rumors spread, questioning their relationship. Then a union official delivered the final insult: “Suzette, you’re a pretty woman — take it as a compliment.”
The same thing happened to Gwajuana Gray, who had followed her father into the assembly plant in 1991 and still works there. When she told her union steward that a manager had pressed his groin against her, he said she should be flattered. “I was like, well, where do you go?” she said.
Much of the media attention on women speaking up about sexual harassment at work has been given to those in the entertainment industries, politics, media companies and startups, but the Times pointed out that not a lot of spotlight has been given to those in blue-collar jobs—like the women at the Ford plants. After the #MeToo campaign, the Times reported, a former Chicago worker propose #WhatAboutUs, showing just who and how many people are looked over.
But it’s not just the spotlight being pointed elsewhere. It’s the lack of justice these women, many being women of color working blue-collar jobs, have gotten against their superiors in the workplace. Many went decades without seeing any real results after they came forward, according to the Times. Another harrowing example:
Miyoshi Morris gave in to a supervisor’s leverage, and was filled with shame. She had been struggling to find day care centers for her children that were open early enough for her to make her 6 a.m. shift. By her account, a manager in the paint department told her she was in trouble because of tardiness. He could help her, she recalled him saying, if she came to his house on a day off he arranged.
She agreed, and had sex with him.
“I was so lost, afraid, and realizing I had children to care for,” she said. Afterward, she said, her attendance record was no longer a problem, and she received better assignments. She remembers thinking, “Where else are you going to go and make this kind of money?”
That manager was later fired in 2014, the story notes.
In a statement given to media outlets, Ford said “We take those claims very seriously and investigate them thoroughly,” the company added. “We have a comprehensive approach to prevent and address sexual harassment and discrimination at our facilities.”
From the facts, legal statements and terrible claims to the various audio files underscoring it all, the Times’ full investigation is worth a read. And it’s hardly unlikely that Ford Chicago is the only part of the auto industry where this is an issue.
Do you have information about what happened at Ford’s Chicago plants, or other accounts of harassment and sexual misconduct within the auto industry? Email us, use our SecureDrop system or reach out find our contact info for Signal here.