Women-Friendly Workplace Campaign Aims High

NOW Gathers Support From Fortune 500 Companies and Takes On New Offenders

byAngela Arboleda, Field Organizer

After achieving successful results in previous campaigns against workplace abuses at the Mitsubishi Motors plant in Illinois and Smith Barney offices across the country, NOW's Women-Friendly Workplace and Campus Campaign is entering 1999 with new life. On the agenda are measures to prevent hostile work environments from developing and flourishing, as well as efforts to help women win justice where their complaints have gone unanswered.

Fortune 500 Challenge

NOW kicked off the new year by launching a pro-active campaign to end sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. In an effort to reach a wide variety of industries, NOW invited all Fortune 500 companies to participate in the Women-Friendly Workplace and Campus Campaign by signing the Employer's Pledge.

The pledge is an integral part of the campaign, outlining the basic work standards that should be guaranteed to every employee and encouraging fair and equal labor practices at all levels.

Of the 500 CEO's NOW asked to join the campaign, 13 have sent back their signed pledges at press time.  NOW thanked the new participants and wondered where the other 487 pledges were.  "Why won't the top companies in the U.S. promise to treat all their workers fairly?" asked NOW President Patricia Ireland. "We want to make another plea to these leading employers to institute programs that will benefit both their employees and the productivity of their businesses."

Ford Motors Agrees to Talk

Through the Women-Friendly Workplace and Campus Campaign, NOW recently sent letters of concern to and requested meetings with at least half a dozen companies where employees have charged that sexual harassment and sex and race discrimination are part of the company culture. Ford Motor Company responded quickly, and thus far, NOW officers have met with Ford executives on four occasions.

Women at Ford plants in Chicago and other communities have made allegations of rampant harassment, including physical advances, offers of money for sex, warnings to keep quiet about misconduct and retaliation after filing complaints.

In two meetings in Washington, D.C., NOW Executive Vice President Kim Gandy, MembershipVice President Karen Johnson and Action Vice President Elizabeth Toledo sat down with Ford's top management to discuss a proposed action plan to implement the company's announced zero-tolerance policy on discrimination.

"Ford was receptive to our proposal and offered ideas of their own," said Gandy. "They were clear that they intend to enforce a zero-tolerance policy and that they want to work with NOW to achieve it."

On March 2, Ireland, Gandy, Toledo and Angela Arboleda, NOW's field organizer assigned to the Women Friendly Workplace and Campus Campaign, met with Ford's new CEO, Jac Nasser, and others at Ford headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., to discuss further the implementation of the action plan.

Ireland returned for a second meeting at Ford March 5, accompanied by NOW's field organizer, former National NOW Board member Jacqueline Steingold and activist Sue Rumph. At press time, negotiations continue between NOW and Ford and an agreement seems imminent.

"The outcome looks good," said Ireland.  "Ford is working with us to make their company a positive example of what can happen when women come forward and say 'no more.'  Every company can decide to really listen to complaints of workplace abuse and then take action to make things better."

Patricia Ireland, center, meets with employees Detroit EdisonPatricia Ireland, center, meets with employees Detroit Edison who have filed a discrimination and harassment suit against the utility company. From left: Alice B. Ennings, attorney for the case, Julie Coch, plaintiff, Ireland and Gwendolyn Ford-Crossley, plaintiff.  Photo by Angela Arboleda.

NOW Supports Discrimination Suit Against Power Company

While the automotive industry has been highly visible on the Women-Friendly Workplace and Campus Campaign's radar, NOW recognizes that harassment and discrimination are present in every industry.

Detroit Edison, the largest utility company in Michigan and the seventh largest electric utility company in the nation, is currently facing a class-action lawsuit for sexual harassment and sex and race  discrimination. The suit was filed in December 1998 on behalf of women and people of color in several plants of the power company.

Even with the suit pending, inappropriate behavior continues. Martina Pickett, one of the complainants, described a recent event:  "An Edison supervisor had a birthday party and in what was described as a company tradition when you turn 50 in this department, he was presented with an oil painting of a nude woman lying in a seductive pose on black velvet. When the next person turns 50, the painting is passed on."

NOW chapters in the Detroit area are standing behind the plaintiffs. The chapters spearheaded a letter-writing campaign to pressure management to take notice of the rampant hostility alleged by women and people of color in their plants.

"As we prepare to enter the 21st century, it is disturbing to realize that women and minorities are still subject to the same inhumane treatment from corporations and some white males as they were a century ago," said Detroit NOW President Maxine Parshall.

NOW President Patricia Ireland inspects a display pornographic and racist cartoons that were previously hung on employees' lockers at Detroit EdisonNOW President Patricia Ireland inspects a display of pornographic and racist cartoons that were previously hung on employees' lockers at Detroit Edison.  Photo by Sue Rumph.

This suit is just the latest in a list of harassment and discrimination suits filed against Detroit Edison since the early seventies. The company settled three cases involving 3500 workers in 1998. Collectively, workers in the three cases will receive from $17 million to $65 million in settlements.

At a Detroit press conference on March 2, Ireland spoke in support of the plaintiffs. "Something is terribly wrong at Detroit Edison," said Ireland. "Those at the top must ensure a workplace free from violent and degrading behavior toward women and people of color, by implementing affirmative action and sexual harassment prevention programs and by adhering to an overall zero-tolerance policy."

Just hours before the plaintiffs' news conference with Ireland, Detroit Edison CEO Anthony Early held a news event of his own to announce he was seeking a meeting with NOW. This was the first response NOW had received to its request for a meeting weeks earlier.

NOW will continue to monitor Detroit Edison's response to the lawsuit and will pursue other companies that have been charged with workplace abuses.


Fortune 500 Companies Signing NOW's Employer Pledge

Cinergy Corp.
SLM Holding Corp. (Sallie Mae)
TYCO International Inc.
Hannaford Bros. Co.
J.P. Morgan
Giant Food
P.G. Walker
Phoenix Home Life Mutual Life
Dayton Hudson Corp.

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