Black Interests

Racism In The Automotive Industry: A Large Scale Problem 


Editorial Contribution by Sally Writes

In 2017, we saw a class action lawsuit being filed against automotive giant Tesla by three of its ex-workers, all of who claimed they were subjected to racism and discrimination in their roles and place of work. What this showed is that racism is alive and kicking in one of the most technology-driven and progressive industries in America and unless we begin to take major steps to address it, we can never hope to achieve true equality. Since then, a host of publications have highlighted that the ongoing problem is not just in Tesla’s factories but in many of its automotive work environment as a whole. In the New York Time’s investigation, shocking trends were revealed in the hiring practices, treatment, and address of black worker with racial slurs a commonplace in more than one of these companies. While the conversation about racism has been ongoing for years, in some instances there seems to have been little progress made.

General Motors’ Hostile Environment And White Only Signs

Last March, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission released its findings on whether General Motors had fostered a racially hostile work environment. The verdict? It had. With multiple complaints against the presence of nooses, racially insulting signs, slurs and even the coming forward of victims such as Marcus Boyd and Derrick Brooks, the evidence was compelling. It was also found that racial discrimination was not limited to gender. In fact, female workers or those found associating with black employees were targeted as well. What is to be noted is that both of these listed victims were justifiably qualified for their positions of management and supervision. Yet they were disregarded and questioned simply because of their color.

What is even more troubling is the response to this kind of behavior in the workplace. Besides issuing a public statement in response to CNN’s inquiry, General Motors did not take many actions to protect or reassure its workers even after they filed complaints. Some of the upper management deemed it to be an overreaction which further dismissed the growing problem in their plants. While eight workers have filed lawsuits against the company, there remains no word on internal measures or actions taken against offending employees by General Motors. Desensitizing workshops and equality programs would go a long way in setting the cohesive atmosphere that workplaces should promote in the future.

Ford’s $10 Million Price Tag For Racial And Sexual Harassment In The Workplace

In 2017, allegations were bought against another automobile company, Ford, on the basis of them allowing sexual and racial harassment at two of their plants. An independent investigation by the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission upheld the claims and also found the presence of retaliation against those who reported the abuse to authorities, signaling a threatening and unsafe work environment. It was also found that racial discrimination exists in the outlet store including auto dealers and repair garages. Unsuspecting consumers can be charged more for repairs by auto technicians. In response, Ford chose to settle with the workers and paid out over $10 million in compensation. However, their response did not stop there. In addition, disciplinary action and dismissal of offending employees were taken and the company has committed itself to conduct regular workshops and implementing new (and regularly updated) anti-bullying and discrimination policies.. The difference in response lies not in the financial compensation but the steps that the company has taken on board to prevent the issue from reoccurring.

Changing The Discriminative Narrative In The Automotive Workplace

Before we can truly eradicate the existence of racism in the automotive industry, we must first lift the lid on the presence of it in the workplace. Shying away from it will do nothing to address the problem and only by bringing it to the forefront can companies take a stand and adopt the measures needed to promote a racially harmonious environment. While the existence of these discrimination incidents is truly a sad fact, there has been some positive feedback by companies who have chosen to lead the way and stand firm in their commitment to equality. Ford’s response to protect and educate future employees is somewhat commendable while Fiat Chrysler’s dismissal of an employee for hanging a noose inside a plant was applauded as the company took a stance against racism.

However, there remains much progress to be made in the industry. Recent interests by American senators and lawmakers have begun to move in the right direction; reforming laws to protect every employee. Companies have a large part to play in this change. The need for an ongoing and honest conversation is clear and so is the need to adopt an open door policy for employees to feel comfortable voicing their concerns if it does happen to them. While it is said that prevention is better than cure; having a cure as a backup plan is always smart.


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