Twenty-six Amazon workers in Joliet have signed on to a federal complaint alleging a discriminatory environment, including death threats, use of the N-word and the wearing of the Confederate insignia in the workplace.
The complaint was filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission this week and follows a series of incidents that go back for months, said attorney Tamara Holder, who is representing the workers.
“In late 2021, at least two men were seen wearing Confederate flag outfits,” Holder said Thursday.
Just a few days ago, a Black worker heard the N-word used as he went through a turnstile at work and reported the incident to management, Holder said. Nothing was done until after a press conference on Wednesday in Chicago announcing the EEOC complaint, and now Amazon management is saying they will look into the incident, she said.
Amazon workers in Joliet also have been warned since the press conference that they can be found in violation of their confidentiality agreement with the company, if they join a complaint against the company or speak to the media concerning the issue, Holder said.
“We are preparing additional legal action,” she said.
Concerns at the Joliet Amazon facility surfaced in late May when Warehouse Workers for Justice issued a statement about death threats using a racial slur that appeared on the wall in a women’s restroom. That episode is part of the EEOC complaint.
Thirty workers had walked off the job because of the death threat, and one began wearing a bullet-proof vest to work, Warehouse Workers for Justice said at the time.
The incident followed the May 14 racially motivated mass shooting that killed 10 Black people at a Buffalo, New York grocery store.
Amazon spokesman Richard Rocha issued a statement Wednesday saying, “Amazon works hard to protect our employees from any form of discrimination and to provide an environment where employees feel safe. Hate or racism have no place in our society and are certainly not tolerated by Amazon.”
Amazon workers want to see a stronger response from management, said Tommy Carden, an organizer with Warehouse Workers for Justice, which remains involved with the Amazon situation in Joliet.
“Their telling us that the Amazon response to the incident in May has been inadequate. It’s been boilerplate,” Carden said.
Workers got cards advising that in an active shooter incident, they should run, hide or fight, which employees saw as putting the responsibility on them, Carden said.
Joliet police received a call from Amazon on May 25 about the bathroom wall incident.
“There are no witnesses or suspects in this case,” Joliet Police Spokesman Sgt. Dwayne English said Thursday. “We have received no further information from Amazon in reference to this incident.”
In a press release announcing the EEOC complaint, Holder’s firm said an employee was able to photograph the treats. But Amazon management had the vandalism removed before the “before properly documenting the incident.”
“Amazon remained silent for nearly 24 hours, then finally texted employees, categorizing the incident as ‘non-threatening,’ and committing to an investigation,” the release said. “To date, however, Amazon still has not shared the results of its so-called investigation. In addition, the facility lacks an active-shooter protocol, leaving targeted employees feeling unsafe.”