LIMA — Allegations of systemic racism against the Ford Lima Engine Plant were on display again as protesters gathered on the lawn outside the plant Friday afternoon.
The complaints were many: a lack of diversity, particularly within management and human resources; allegations of retaliation and unfair treatment; and a series of alleged racist incidents, the most recent of which involved a stuffed monkey found hanging from a workstation, according to photos circulating on social media and shown to The Lima News.
“They can’t pretend they don’t know what’s going on,” said John Latimer, a Ford employee for 21 years. “They know exactly what’s going on, but they hide it.”
A flyer distributed to UAW Local 1219 members during Friday’s protest describes an environment in which complaints about harassment “fall into a file that disappears into a desk.”
Protesters call it systemic racism, or as the flyer describes it, a system in which the people “who are charged with recognizing and correcting the issues are complacent and lack the ability to address the problems because they themselves are guilty of the very same issues.”
Failure to address those problems, the flyer concludes, could result in high turnover, lower productivity and, worse, a diminished reputation and profitability for the company.
This isn’t the first time allegations of discrimination at the engine plant have surfaced.
Ron Fails, president of the NAACP chapter in Lima, said he’s challenged the plant manager and local union leadership to “fix the culture.” But Fails claims those leaders have failed to make meaningful changes.
“Ford systemically have a tremendous (amount) of racial problems that range from employees going in the restroom, only to see n*****, n*****, n***** go home; that range from monkeys being found in the plant with a noose around his neck; that range from a noose being found in the plant,” Fails said. “Now, that’s minimal compared to the culture that these people are working in, in terms of who gets promoted and who gets overlooked.”
Crystal Jones, who has worked for the engine plant for the past 10 years, said transfers who come to Lima are surprised by the culture here.
“They’re like: ‘How do they get away with this,’” she said. “They don’t understand how we’re operating this way. It’s not normal. It’s not what they’re used to. It’s systemic racism.”
But the issues extend beyond Lima, according to La Kendra Blackman, an education committee chair with the UAW Local 1219 and five-year Ford employee.
“(It’s) regional and international,” she said.
“We need our jobs here,” Blackman explained. “But at the same time, what we do not need is to come in here and work in hostility; to come in here and leave here knowing myself and others have been diagnosed with anxiety; to come in here and utilize your rights and protocol to be shot down, to be disciplined, to be told that if you stand on the merits of our rights, that you not only will be removed from your position, it could possibly be up to suspension and termination.”
Update: A spokewoman for Ford Motor Co. said the individual responsible for the monkey incident is no longer employed by Ford and that the company does not tolerate harrassment, discrimination, violence or threats in the workplace.
“Ford is committed to racial and social justice,” the company said in a statement. “We are a company made up of extraordinary people of every race, religion and background, all worthy of the same dignity. We view our differences as one of our great strengths. Efforts are ongoing at Lima Engine Plant to support a culture of belonging for all our team members and partners.”
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.