LIMA — Helping a greater number of minority residents in Allen County secure jobs in the local labor market — and making sure they are treated fairly once they get there — are among the goals of an outreach program that was quietly launched nearly a year ago by the Lima chapter of the NAACP.
Chapter President Ron Fails, during an impromptu press conference Tuesday morning, said an “uptick” in complaints and allegations of discrimination and civil rights violations against minority employees in the workplace led to an ongoing dialogue between his organization and captains of industry in and around Lima.
Fails said more than 40 complaints have been filed with the NAACP chapter in recent months. The Ford Lima engine plant led the way with 20 such complaints, followed by Dana Corporation with 12 allegations of discrimination, Fails said.
Bob Evans Farms and Spartan Nash in Lima and Plastipak in Jackson Center were also singled out as companies alleged to have discriminated against minorities.
Those complaints, which Fails said proved “credible,” spurred the NAACP into action.
“We want to wrap our arms around this by addressing these complaints so as to keep the companies in our community vibrant and to ensure their success,” Fails said. “We understand this is not something these corporations want or embrace, but they have expressed a desire to work with us to resolve these issues.”
Fails said the intent of his organization “is not to tear down” local manufacturers but to help end labor practices “which have been perceived as discriminatory against minorities so that all people are treated equally in the workplace.”
Fails said union officials at the Lima Ford engine plant have asked the NAACP to help attempt to resolve what he termed “outrageous situations regarding discipline, termination … those kind of things” among minority employees.
The Lima chapter of the civil rights organization has been in contact with representatives of Ford International regarding the allegations, Fails said.
Kelli Felker, a spokesperson for the Ford Motor Co., said late Tuesday that Ford takes seriously any allegation of discrimination and was attempting to find out more information surrounding the NAACP’s statements.
Fails said a “culture of fear” exists at Dana Corporation’s Lima facility as well as at the Ford engine plant.
“People are afraid to speak up out of fear of retaliation,” Fails alleged. “And fear in the workplace affects safety as well as productivity.”
Jeff Cole, senior director of corporate communications for Dana, issued the following statement in response to the allegations made by the NAACP: “Dana does not discriminate and would not tolerate discrimination if it came to light. No one has brought allegations of discrimination to our attention, and we were not informed of the NAACP press conference or what was said there. For that reason, we are unable to comment further.”
Fails said the NAACP has also engaged officials at the Husky refinery and the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center (tank plant) about increasing the overall racial diversity at both of those sites. He said that while minorities make up roughly one-quarter of the population of Lima, the tank plant and the refinery have “a very low percentage of minority employees, way below that of Ford, Dana, P&G and other local manufacturers.”
Fails said plans are in the works to develop an entry-level welding program at Lima Senior High School similar to one that already exists at Apollo Joint Vocational School “so inner city kids have the same opportunities as those outside the city” to become better prepared to join the local workforce.
There are some “bright lights” throughout the community, Fails said, when it comes to opportunities for minority workers. He said Walmart has a “very balanced” percentage of minority employees and that the Ohio Department of Transportation has increased the number of workers of color.
He was similarly impressed with what he termed “progress” within the City of Lima as it pertains to hiring.
“There seems to be an awakening with that organization,” Fails said.
Reach J Swygart at 567-242-0464.