By Wayne Morrison
I started working for Coca-Cola in early 2008. I was originally hired for the merchandiser position. My responsibilities consisted of packing Coca-Cola products in retail stores and setting up displays, while also rotating the stock. I covered an area that spanned from the Bronx, N.Y to Ridgefield, Connecticut.
At first, it seemed like a good job. I was working for a big, prestigious company with endless amounts of opportunities, or so I thought.
About a year later, I heard that Coca-Cola was making some changes in my department; they changed the supervisors. I heard that the reason was because the original supervisors were very worker-friendly and that they were too nice and tolerant. I didn’t believe that at first because those supervisors provided us with a conducive and harassment-free work zone that enabled us to be more productive.
Shortly after, I saw that the supervisory staff was indeed replaced with new aggressive supervisors that professed that they were there to “clean house” and that they were going to “cut the overtime because workers were making too much money.” I would often hear these supervisors say things such as “you’re not going to be able to pay for your cars” and “I’ll be damned if my subordinate will make more money than me.” I tried to ignore it, but I knew that this was going to be a problem.
I immediately noticed a change in managing style. I was constantly being followed and monitored while I was working. I was constantly being called on the cell phone and grilled as to what my present location was, if I were lying. I would often see the supervisor sneaking around the stores trying to catch me doing something wrong and all I was doing was working. The harassment that I faced was mainly dealt by a Caucasian supervisor. He was very aggressive and made me feel uncomfortable. I tried my best to ignore his harassment and continued to perform my duties in a professional manner. But I must admit that I was stressed under his supervision.
In April 2010, four warehouse positions were made available. I decided to apply for the position because it was offering better pay, and I felt that it was a good opportunity to move away from the harassment that I faced as a merchandiser. I was told that depending on my performance, the Managers would decide if I would get this position.
Needless to say, I worked extra hard. I picked extremely high amounts of cases. The warehouse workers even called me and another co-worker (also Jamaican-American) “the heavy hitters” (referring to homerun hitting baseball players). I was doing my job to the best of my ability, and yet I was being treated like I was doing something wrong. I would often hear workers say things like “we already have too many Jamaicans in this warehouse” and “Jamaicans are taking over,” and these things were all said in front of management staff with no corrective action to those who would repeat these phrases. They would hear it and act if nothing was wrong.
I noticed that similar to my position in the merchandiser division, I was being watched constantly; my breaks were being monitored and I was being watched while I was working. Meanwhile, I would often see the Caucasian workers taking extended lunches and breaks with no consequences; many times I would even see the supervisors and managers hanging out and joking with these workers on their unauthorized breaks. The supervisors would see these Caucasian workers in the warehouse not doing their job, or relaxing at their position, but instead of assigning a work load for them, they would pull me out of my position and make me do the work that the Caucasian worker was supposed to be asked to do.
I would have to do two and three jobs while the Caucasian workers wouldn’t even be doing one. I worked extremely hard and endured a few months of this probationary period work, and yet I wasn’t being paid according to the new rate. I brought this to my supervisor’s attention with my shop steward present. I was then brought to the manager for resolution. The manager said that he would “take care of it,” but he didn’t correct it.
I went several months going back and forth to the manager’s office with this same problem and I would receive the same answer from the manager. It wasn’t until a month or two before being denied the position and being transferred back to the merchandiser position that I finally saw my pay adjusted. When I was transferred back to the merchandiser’s position, my pay was immediately adjusted to the lower rate of a merchandiser. I confronted the supervisors on this decision and asked why was my performance disregarded. They answered me and said that it wasn’t their decision.
I was able to transfer back to the warehouse worker position in 2011, although I previously experienced some displeasure, I felt that it was still better than working under the scrutiny and harassment that I was dealing with as a merchandiser. I passed my probationary period and was given the position.
As time went by, I was again being harassed, especially by another Caucasian supervisor. He would also watch my breaks and lunches; he would also assign me extra work while the Caucasian workers in my division would be hanging out as they often did. The Caucasian workers were allowed to take extended lunches and breaks. They would often disappear for an hour and sometimes two hours at a time. The supervisors would be fully aware and do nothing to correct this.
Yet, if a minority worker would take a minute or two over their break time, the supervisor would immediately write them up for “stealing company time.” There was definitely a double standard. I would witness a zero tolerance policy for any minor infractions that a minority would commit; any minor violation committed by a minority would be met with swift discipline.
Meanwhile, Caucasians would consistently get away with major violations and were treated with preference.
I knew that I was expected to do more work than the Caucasians. It wasn’t fair and it violated the company’s code of ethics and compliance. I was stressed beyond what I thought I could handle, but still I maintained my composure. I have a family that depends on me, and it was obvious to me that my future working for Coca-Cola depended on my tolerance for open racism at the job.
I worked so hard that I even worked through my breaks. Other minorities and I were constantly given excess work that would be impossible to complete if I took my breaks, so I would often have to work through my breaks to accomplish the tasks given me. We often worked with many obstacles. We had to work with limited equipment and often stood around with no direction from my supervisor, and then when I could get my hands on a pallet jack, I would have to work extra fast to make up for the loss.
I worked so fast and did so much that I thought that my efforts would not be ignored. But rather than be commended, I was made to feel like I was a criminal simply because I am a hard-working minority. I was often given extra tasks and expected to complete all of them with the threat of being disciplined if it wasn’t completed. Yet none of the Caucasians in this department were given this task.
Finally, after years of enduring racism and hostility, harassment and retaliations, I was wrongfully terminated because I stood up for myself. After years of holding my peace, I finally started challenging my supervisors for what I saw to be unethical treatment. I and others stood up and required answers from our supervisors concerning our unfair work load and unfair treatment.
The supervisor purposely ignored our pleas for justice, and when we sought help from our shop steward (which is our contractual right), we were unjustly fired for “walking off the job” although we were present in the facility and completed our work assignments. I was unjustly fired by my manager because of a lie that was concocted by two supervisors. I have suffered a great deal of stress because of the racially-charged atmosphere at Coca-Cola. I have been depressed and my family has suffered as well.
Reprinted with permission from Stop Coke Discrimination.