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Ford Motor Company’s CEO and union have responded to allegations of widespread sexual harassment at the company’s Chicago assembly and stamping plants.
“I want to take this opportunity to say that I am sorry for any instance where a colleague was subjected to harassment or discriminatory conduct,” Jim Hackett, Ford’s CEO, said in an open letter to employees.
“On behalf of myself and the employees of Ford Motor Company, who condemn such behavior and regret any harassment as much as I do, I apologise. More importantly, I promise that we will learn from this and we will do better.”
Hackett described reading the accounts of harassment detailed in The New York Times as “gut wrenching”.
The story claims women were catcalled and subjected to sexually suggestive comments, inappropriate touching, groping, and were made to witness sexual acts or exposed to male genitalia.
One woman was reportedly told by a union official to “take it as a compliment” when a co-worker and mentor suggested she be paid for a sexual act, while others faced retaliation when they complained to management or the union.
The CEO admitted Ford settled claims at its Chicago factories in 1999 and 2017. The company created a US$10 million ($13 million) compensation fund for its employees as part of the August 2017 settlement, and says it has “invested in 20,000 hours of employee training” to try and quell the problem.
According to The Times, Ford reached a US$22 million ($29 million) settlement in 1999, including US$9 million ($12 million) in payouts.
With a union containing alleged harassers representing both accused and accusers alike, as well as a working culture described as ‘unique’ by transplants from other factories, the factories reportedly began to slip back into their bad old ways after the initial settlement.
Things apparently worsened after the most recent economic crash, with workers and union officials afraid to rock the boat out of fear Ford would close their factory.
The company still faces ongoing lawsuits regarding harassment at its plants.
Representatives from Ford management and the United Auto Workers union recorded a video informing employees of the various avenues through which they can lodge claims.
In the video, Bruce Hettle, vice president of manufacturing and labour affairs, says “any employee who reports harassment or discrimination, or an employee who cooperates with an investigation should know that we do not tolerate retaliation against them. Period.”
According to The Detroit News, the video (top) is playing on a loop at all of Ford’s US factories.