Andrea Baldrias / Contributor
In April 2017, a lawsuit was filed by eight Black supervisors at the GM’s Toledo Powertrain plant in Ohio. The supervisors reported that they were the recipients of racist threats, both verbal and symbolic.
Over the course of fourteen months, the GM workers would refer to their supervisors as “boy,” “monkey,” and the n-word. They marked the bathrooms as “Whites only,” and told them to “go back to Africa.” At this same workplace, the supervisors were cautioned that a White colleague’s father was in the Ku Klux Klan and the White workers wore shirts with Nazi symbols underneath their coveralls, and eventually placed a total of five nooses around January 2017.
Around the time of lawsuit being filed, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission had stated that GM management took minimal action and showed very little recourse after learning about the racism in their plant.
CNN had spoken with two of the eight supervisors, Marcus Boyd and Derrick Brooks. Boyd recalled the felt tension from the White supervisors and towards the Black supervisors from his first day at the plant. From the moment he started, he could see the White manager’s disdain and questioning of his adequacy. He also noticed that the White managers were trained before starting the job, and the Black managers received no formal training.
Boyd remembered upper management’s disinterest when he reported the abhorrent behavior and verbal disparagement. In the CNN report, he said, “”You have management people in high places, and union officials in high places, that work together to protect people … that are White.”
Among other discriminatory actions described in the lawsuit included: workers handwriting ‘N—-r Lover’ on the pizza box of a White woman who was seen with Boyd at the plant, using coded language to talk about the Black supervisors i.e. calling them ‘Dan’ which other colleagues informed them that it stood for ‘Dumb Ass N—-r,’ a White employee who oversaw Boyd, which he reported, saying “Back in the day, you would have been buried with a shovel,” and other stomach-churning comments and actions along the same vein.
Derrick Brooks had commented to CNN that he and his fellow managers had to treat the plant like a battlefield. He said every day the fellow Black supervisors would walk by each other or check in by the phone they would say to each other, “I got your six,” a phrase soldiers would use to say they had each other’s back.
This month, GM released a statement which said, “Every day, everyone at General Motors is expected to uphold a set of values that are integral to the fabric of our culture. Discrimination and harassment are not acceptable and in stark contrast to how we expect people to show up at work…. We treat any reported incident with sensitivity and urgency, and are committed to providing an environment that is safe, open and inclusive. General Motors is taking this matter seriously and addressing it through the appropriate court process.”
GM’s main Twitter account had echoed a similar sentiment in response to incensed users about the allegations, “We’re outraged that anyone would be subjected to racist behavior. We have zero tolerance for discrimination — this is not who we are. We’re working to drive this out of our workplaces.”