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Headquarters of Daimler Trucks North America
By Donovan M. Smith | The Skanner News
Published: 24 November 2014

Daimler Trucks North America, is under investigation by The Bureau of Labor and Industries for violating the civil rights of nine employees. --Photo via Google Maps

The number of workers claiming civil rights violations against Daimler Trucks North America—joining a complaint against the company filed by the state labor commissioner himself -- has grown from four to 10.

The Bureau of Labor and Industries spokesperson Charlie Burr says it’s rare for Commissioner Brad Avakian to take such action, with this only being his sixth complaint since taking office in 2008.

Avakian’s complaint filed in September, and the additional four that’ve been filed since then, add to an ongoing investigation looking into possible racial discrimination and employee abuse at Daimler in just over a decade.

Daimler (formerly Freightliner LLC) which employs over 20,000 workers in North America has received over 20 BOLI complaints dating back to 2002; most cases were either deferred to court or dismissed due to lack of evidence. Avakian says this is the first year that there’s been substantial evidence of a pervasive hostile work environment at the trucking giant.

Racial epithets including “nigger” and “boy;” displays of nooses by a co-worker to one of the complainants with the threat to drag him behind a truck; a swastika carved into a bathroom; and a Native American employee being shoved up against a truck, make up just some of the conditions alleged in the documents obtained by The Skanner News.

“Co-workers would write the word ‘nigger’ in places for me to clean up,” alleges Joseph Hall in his grievance. Hall retired from Daimler in 2013, due to a disability but believes race also played into it.

Patrick D. Johnson Sr., who remains employed with Daimler as a warehouse worker and material handler, alleges that because he is black he has been subjected to different terms of employment. “I am constantly forced to work the least desirable jobs in this position, including ones outdoors or the more difficult jobs,” Johnson alleges in his complaint filed April this year.

Avakian’s complaint alleges “severe” civil rights violations against minority employees “including but not limited to Black, African American, Egyptian, and Vietnamese.”

Daimler spokesperson Dave Giroux says in a statement that the company is an equal opportunity employer and is fully cooperating with BOLI. Since the allegations have surfaced Daimler has hired their own outside investigator to fact-check what they’re telling the agency.

“[We] prohibit discrimination in the recruitment, selection, training, utilization, upgrading or termination of any individual, or in any other personnel related activities, based on characteristics protected by law such as race, color, gender, religion, national origin, age, marital status, family relationship, disability, sexual orientation, or veteran status,” says Giroux.

Based in Michigan, the company is currently constructing its new $150 million North American headquarters on Swan Island, $20 million of which is covered by city and state subsidies.

“There are overarching social issues at stake when the harm looks severe. We had had a number of complaints from Daimler, and it appeared to me that all of those factors were met,” says Avakian.

Though BOLI has nearly a year left to complete its investigation, which has included, in part, interviews with both staff and management at Daimler, BOLI representatives are confident it will be complete in “months or weeks, rather than a year.”

Most details of the case will remain under wraps until that time.

The majority of the incidents documented in the BOLI complaints happened more than a year ago; that, Avakian says, is what moved him to file his own complaint.

“What folks should know, is that when they do choose to stand up for themselves they’re not alone,” he says. “But what folks at Daimler have found is that we will listen to them, take their complaints seriously, and if the evidence is there we’ll hold the corporation accountable.”

If you feel you are being discriminated against at work, call Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries at 971-673-0761, or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 202-663-4599.

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