By Tal Axelrod
Employees of color at the Harley-Davidson plant in Kansas City said Friday they have faced years of harassment and discrimination.
The employees said at a press conference that people have posted swastikas and nooses, used racial epithets and engaged in at least one assault, The Associated Press reported.
“All the time I worked there it’s been there, it’s just ridiculous,” said Emmanuel Matthews Sr., who worked at the plant for more than two years. “This is 2019. This stuff has to stop. Something needs to be done.”
Matthews also claimed that he was assaulted by another worker, though declined to go into detail about the incident.
The employees at the press conference Friday work for Syncreon.US Inc., which supplies contract workers to the Harley-Davidson plant, but asserted that all minority employees faced discrimination.
“Complaints that we were aware of were thoroughly investigated and action was taken based on the findings,” Harley-Davidson said in a statement to the AP. “As appropriate we also referred incidents and complaints to third-party employers who share our factory.”
Oswald Reid, president and CEO of Syncreon.US, said in a statement that the company does not tolerate any of the allegations and that employees are offered numerous outlets to report harassment or discrimination.
“Over the last three years, all alleged policy or Code of Conduct violations that we are aware of have been swiftly and effectively addressed,” Reid told the AP. “As of this moment, there are no open investigations with regards to discriminatory behavior.”
Employees said the harassment has continued for years but has recently increased ahead of the plant’s expected closure later this year.
The harassment reportedly included graffiti that told black employees to die or to go back to Africa. The employees said management was slow to address any reports of swastikas or racial epithets and that perpetrators rarely faced consequences.
“I tried,” Rochelle Anthony, a former union representative for the Steelworkers at the plant, said of her efforts to file complaints. “I felt like I was fighting by myself. I couldn’t help them. It’s getting worse. We need help.”
The Rev. Rodney Williams, president of NAACP-Kansas City, said the national NAACP intends to ask the motorcycle manufacturer to conduct internal investigations into discrimination at all of its plants.
Steve Nelson, general manager at the Kansas City plant, sought to assure his employees with a letter Thursday saying the company is taking “all necessary steps” to enforce its anti-discrimination policy, according to the AP.