Ford Factory Floors a Neglected Scene of Sexual Harassment: Report

New female hires paraded in assembly plant as male workers yell 'fresh meat.'   

FORD CHICAGO MI
CHARLES V. TINES—AP

Men in high places have lost their jobs and reputations in recent months as women in Hollywood, the media, and on Capitol Hill have spoken out about sexual harassment. 

But females working in blue-collar jobs out of the limelight appear to have a far harder time getting their concerns addressed, according to a New York Times piece Tuesday detailing abhorrent behavior by still-employed men at two Ford plants in Chicago.

As one former worker told the newspaper that the #MeToo movement should include a slightly different campaign called #WhatAboutUs.

Women workers at Ford are often targeted early on, getting a taste of the abuse to come at new-hire orientations, where they are paraded on the assembly plant floor as male workers call out "Fresh meat!"

Veteran workers advise against reporting the behavior, which includes lewd comments and come-ons, with men grabbing their crotches and moaning when female coworkers pass, as complaining only brings more trouble, such as getting denied bathroom breaks, the Times said.

The bad behavior continues to this day, according to the Times, which interviewed more than 100 former and current workers and reviewed legal documents in describing the environment at two plants in Chicago that employ about 5,700 people, nearly a third of them women.

The misconduct persists despite a professional human resources operation at Ford, a multinational corporation, and despite the findings of the federal government, which announced a $10.13 million settlement with the company in August.

Beyond finding racial and sexual harassment at the factories in Chicago, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission probe found Ford "retaliated against employees who complained about the harassment or discrimination," the EEOC said in a statement.

The United Auto Workers, the Times reported, must protect the rights of those doing the accusing and the accused, with a local union leadership that included alleged predators. 

Brian Rothenberg, A spokesperson for the United Auto Workers in Detroit, cited potential pending litigation and grievances in declining comment on the piece.  

But UAW President Dennis Williams did address the issue generally in speaking to reporters on Wednesday, saying the UAW has a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment. 

"Working men and women have to understand that people ought to be able to go to the workplace without being harassed, for any reason whatsoever," said Williams, who spoke during a quarterly press conference.

Williams added that the union and Ford have training to combat the problem. 

In an emailed statement, Ford said it does not tolerate sexual harassment or discrimination, and takes such claims seriously and investigates them thoroughly. More than two years ago Ford took further steps at its Chicago plants, including increasing its human resources staff to help investigate claims and provide oversight, the company said.