Ford, hit with lawsuits, launches sexual harassment prevention campaign in U.S. factories

Phoebe Wall Howard
Detroit Free Press
From left, Bruce Hettle, Group Vice President, Manufacturing and Labor Affairs, Ford and Jimmy Settles, Vice President, UAW-Ford, in a frame grab from a video talking about how to report harassment at plants for Ford in December 2017.

Ford Motor Co., which has faced a series of lawsuits related to sexual harassment and vulgarity among workers, launched a national campaign Tuesday to run indefinitely on video monitors in all 24 of its domestic factories.

"It is meant to make a strong statement," said company spokeswoman Kelli Felker. "It's an important message to everyone working our plants that we do not tolerate sexual harassment or discrimination. And we investigate every single claim."

Ford videotaped the 2-minute, 40-second message during the past month, featuring Bruce Hettle, group vice president of global manufacturing and labor affairs; and Jimmy Settles, the UAW vice president assigned to Ford. The two men discuss how to report harassment, discrimination and perceived retaliation.

About 56,000 hourly UAW workers in Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio and New York are employed at the factories — four stamping plants, three transmission plants, eight assembly plants, six engine plants, and three casting/forging plants, Felker confirmed.

The message, captioned to reach workers regardless of noise interference, is playing on monitors in various plant locations on a continual loop. The monitors are usually used to highlight worker issues, including safety updates.

In August, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that investigates workplace discrimination, reached a $10 million settlement with Ford for sexual and racial harassment at two Chicago plants. This week, The New York Times published a report on Ford and its chronic history of a problem that doesn't seem to go away.  A lawsuit against Ford is making its away through the courts now.

"In the 1990s, a string of lawsuits and an EEOC investigation resulted in a $22 million settlement and a commitment by Ford to crack down," the Times said. The report outlined 25 years of incidents where female employees were "mocked, dismissed, threatened and ostracized" after reporting incidents of men who "crudely commented on their breasts and buttocks"; groped them, pressed against them and "simulated sex acts or masturbated in front of them."

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Helen Allen, 53, of Proctorville, Ohio, is a plumber/pipe-fitter currently suing Ford. The 17-year employee, who transferred from the Chicago factory that assembled the Taurus and Explorer to the Sharonville Transmission Plant, told the Free Press on Wednesday that running the video is a "very good idea" but not enough.

"There's so much sexual harassment in the workplace there, it needs to be curbed down," she said. "Training is needed. But I would recommend taking everybody off the floor and giving a class. Ford needs to be aggressive with it, very aggressive."

Allen, who is on leave due to injury, plans to return to work in early 2018. She said Ford provides training but it doesn't seem to resonate in Chicago. "I still get calls every week from people and I've been gone over a year," she said. "It's still happening."

Ford issued an extensive statement outlining its policy that includes reporting issues of concern through an 800 number, a phone app and an open-door policy.

In addition, the company said that more than two years ago, it began taking additional actions at the Chicago plants, including:

  • Conducting more than 20,000 hours of mutual respect training for hourly and salaried employees.
  • Providing additional leadership and diversity training for salaried employees.
  • Delivering additional training on how to properly investigate harassment and discrimination claims.
  • Increasing human resources staff by more than 30% to provide investigations support and oversight, including a staff member who oversees both plants and reports directly to Personnel Relations at Ford headquarters in Dearborn.

"In August, we agreed with the EEOC to provide an effective method for employees to receive a financial award if an independent panel agrees with their harassment or discrimination complaint," the Ford statement says. "We are taking the steps necessary to reinforce Ford’s commitment to a work environment free of harassment and discrimination."

UAW President Dennis Williams, while meeting with reporters Wednesday, was asked to comment on sexual harassment at the Ford plants.

"The UAW has a policy of no tolerance, zero tolerance, when it comes to sexual harassment. That's our position. It hasn't changed," he said. "We're in the process right now, in several departments, where we're doing training. Working men and women have to understand that people ought to be able to go to the workplace without being harassed for any reason whatsoever." 

Contact Phoebe Wall Howard: 313-222-6512 or Follow her on Twitter @phoebesaid