By Yvette Butler
I am a single mother of three children. I was hired by Coca-Cola in 2003 as a production mechanic at the Maspeth, Queens (New York) plant. I was the only female African-American mechanic until my termination in 2008. For five years, I faced constant racial and gender discrimination, unfair work assignments and sexual harassment from supervisors and co-workers. My complaints to managers and the Human Resources Department were ignored.
Throughout my employment, I was denied essential training on machines alongside my co-workers while white male mechanics were given this necessary training. I was constantly harassed on the job by male co-workers and supervisors who made comments like, “What is it? That time of the month?” A white female co-worker refusing an assignment went unchallenged when she openly said in a meeting and in my presence, “What am I, a Nigger?”
A maintenance manager persistently asked me for dates and made sexual jokes as I worked on the machines. The harassment and abuses escalated after I refused his advances. He told supervisors to assign me to dangerous and hazardous jobs alone, jobs that are normally done by two or more mechanics, thus jeopardizing my safety. None of my male and non-black counterparts had to work alone on these jobs. Another supervisor even instructed me to use a cigarette lighter to heat and soften up a hose in a room full of flammable chemicals. Instructions I fortunately did not follow and found another way to fix the hose.
Besides enduring offensive racial comments that went unchallenged, I also watched a co-worker come to work wearing the Confederate flag on his head for several hours and he was never reprimanded by any of the supervisors.
This made my work especially difficult to perform in an environment of open abuse and discrimination when all my attempts to resolve these issues were ignored by plant managers and the Human Resources Department. Coca-Cola, instead of dealing fairly with my complaints, terminated me for speaking out.
I have suffered from emotional depression and anxiety from my mistreatment at the hands of supervisors, managers and co-workers. Because of my termination and Coca-Cola interfering with my receiving unemployment benefits, My three children and I became destitute and homeless and we were forced to live in a shelter for 13 months. The trauma I experienced working at Coca-Cola and the discrimination I faced left many emotional scars upon me and my family.
Reprinted with permission from Stop Coke Discrimination.