Eight workers are suing General Motors over working conditions in the Toledo Powertrain plant. The issue? Flagrant white supremacy. From nooses to swastikas, the Toledo plant is rife with racism.
The plant, which makes parts for Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick and GMC, was filled with employees who called black supervisors “boy,” hung nooses, talked about a Ku Klux Klansmen “daddy,” said a black supervisor would’ve been “buried with a shovel” back in the day and used language Grit Post refuses to repeat on a regular basis.
“I used to have to pray. Literally, ‘Lord protect me.’ ” said supervisor Marcus Boyd in an interview with CNN. “It was like being at war.”
So much so that Boyd and another black supervisor, Derrick Brooks, would use military jargon when checking in on one another — which they did frequently. “I’ve got your six” was the kind of reassurance they never got from GM.
“Discrimination and harassment are not acceptable and in stark contrast to how we expect people to show up at work,” GM said in a statement. “We treat any reported incident with sensitivity and urgency, and are committed to providing an environment that is safe, open and inclusive.”
GM would not answer questions.
Their statement, however, does not track with the experiences of Brooks, Boyd and other black employees. GM repeatedly told black employees to handle incidents of racism themselves, and when nooses started appearing, GM’s primary response was to replace rope in the Powertrain plant with yellow chain.
A white supervisor allegedly bemoaned the response to the nooses as “too big a deal,” saying: “There was never a black person who was lynched that didn’t deserve it.”
When workers were penalized, they were defended by the United Auto Workers and often received small penalties for creating a hostile work environment. An employee who raised a heavy clutch assembly in a threatening manner toward his supervisor, Boyd, during a dispute about a vacation request was penalized one day’s pay.
“Do I believe people are a little too sensitive these days? Absolutely,” said UAW president Dennis Earl. “You can’t say the things you used to say off the cuff. It doesn’t excuse it, but it’s not racially motivated statements. It’s just bad judgment.”
Earl is white.
A white woman seen with Boyd found “N—- lover” written on her pizza box. Employees wore Nazi symbols under coveralls. “Whites Only” was written on a bathroom wall. Nooses were hung in a place of business in 2018.
“A noose just represented everything that happened to me every day before that,” said Boyd. “There were eight white males that was supposedly plotting to sabotage and to follow me out.”
Boyd was advised to get a gun in response to troubling rumors. His mother begged him to quit. Ultimately, he did. As did Brooks.
“GM did not deny that these things were taking place. They simply said, ‘Hey as soon as we heard of these things we moved in and we took action.’ That is not what we found in the investigation,” said Darlene Sweeney-Newbern, regional director for the Ohio Civil Rights Commission which enforces state anti-discrimination laws.
Sweeney-Newbern pointed to the white supervisor who thought the situation was overblown and seemed to condone lynchings as an example of the culture of the plant, and was skeptical that such a supervisor was going to do what was necessary in addressing the problems at the plant.
Lawyers Wednesday entered into evidence a message still visible at the Toledo Powertrain plant: “You only need to hang mean bastards, but mean bastards you need to hang.”
The Ohio Conference of the NAACP was not immediately available for comment.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.