Four African-American employees of Portland-based Daimler Trucks North America have filed state civil-rights complaints claiming they have been the targets of continuing racial intimidation by co-workers.
The employees say co-workers at the company’s Swan Island truck assembly plant threatened them with physical violence, and called them “nigger,” “boy” and “Toby.”
One employee alleges a co-worker dangled a noose in front of him and threatened to “hogtie” him to the back of a truck and drag him behind it.
“When he was done with me,” the employee said of the threatening co-worker, “I would be 100 pounds lighter.”
The employees say the harassment has continued for as long as a decade, because Daimler managers ignored them when they complained.
“I went through a whole lot of stuff in my 20 years there,” says Joseph L. Hall, an environmental maintenance technician who filed his complaint in July after retiring from the Swan Island plant last year. “They taunt you.”
The complaints are currently under investigation by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian is considering elevating the complaints by filing his own “commissioner’s complaint” against Daimler, protecting the employees from retaliation. “These are serious allegations,” says BOLI spokesman Charlie Burr, “and we are committed to a fair and thorough investigation.”
Daimler declined to comment on the complaints. “Discrimination and/or harassment on the basis of any protected category is strictly prohibited at Daimler Trucks North America and will not be tolerated,” company spokesman Dave Giroux tells WW.
“We’ve been trying to work it out with the company,” says Mark Morrell, attorney for three complainants. “It looks like it’s headed to litigation, unless we can get them to come to their senses.”
The case surfaces as Daimler begins construction on a new $150 million North American headquarters building on Swan Island.
The German-owned truck giant, long known as Freightliner Corp., employs about 800 people building Western Star commercial semi trucks at Swan Island, while Daimler’s Portland offices employ more than 2,000 people.
Daimler cut a deal last year for $20 million in state and city subsidies, and promises to bring Portland 400 new jobs. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and Portland Mayor Charlie Hales both wielded shovels at the groundbreaking in July.
The complaints say racial harassment at Daimler dates back to 2003, but has grown worse in the past year. The first employee, who filed with BOLI on Jan. 17, is a 14-year veteran of the company and works as a material handler.
“Co-workers would constantly make racist jokes,” he wrote. “Another co-worker…would constantly ask me, ‘Where’s my chicken?’”
The complaint says the harassment turned threatening last fall. “On or about Sept. 9, 2013, a coworker… approached me in the shipping room with a rope fashioned into a noose. He looked at me and pointed.” The employee says the co-worker was waiting for him in the parking lot later that night. He said that’s when the co-worker threatened to hogtie him and drag him behind his truck.
Employees say the company has not removed a swastika carved in a restroom door. One complainant says the worksite contains “racist depictions of President Obama” and that a manager told other workers he would “fire all the blacks.”
In his complaint, Hall says he was attacked by a white co-worker in 2006, and that other workers “would write the word ‘nigger’ in places for me to clean up.”
He said he reported the racial slurs to Daimler, but management ignored him.
“I’m 63 years old,” Hall tells WW. “I came up in an era where my mother and father had to deal with stuff that I didn’t think I’d have to deal with. But it hasn’t changed.”