#MeToo hits Ford Motor Company, but will anyone pay attention?

With so much of the focus on Hollywood and Washington when it comes to the Me Too Moment, is there room in the news cycle or in the attention span of the public for similar problems in less flashy work locations? That question is being put to the test as the fallout continues from numerous allegations arising at Ford’s plants in Chicago and elsewhere. Elected officials in the Windy City held another series of hearings this week and got an earful from women who worked for the auto industry giant over a period of decades and described horrible conditions where complaints over such abuse were regularly ignored. Unfortunately, you probably didn’t see much about it unless you were catching the local CBS coverage.

Aldermen held another hearing Tuesday morning on reports of sexual harassment at two Ford Motor Company plants in Chicago, and how those complaints were handled.

Suzette Wright, a former worker suing the company for sexual harassment, said she started working at a Ford plant in 1993, and from the start faced groping, sexual taunts, and other harassment. She said she also faced retaliation when she filed a complaint.

“It was a high price to pay for a paycheck that was taxed by the oppression and forced silence, which takes a toll on your self-respect and your self-worth,” she said at a City Council Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday.

Another worker named Christie Van told of episodes where she and others were abused, but when they filed a complaint they were either ignored or retaliated against, with some women being forced out of the company. And it wasn’t just the men. Some of the victims providing testimony said that female executives in both the company and their union not only turned a blind eye to complaints but helped to cover up the abuse and defend the men who were accused.

It’s not that nobody has been held to account. In fact, the President of Ford’s North American division just resigned, though nobody (including him) is admitting to anything other than unspecified “leadership behavior” which fell short of company standards. (The Verge)

Ford Motor Company President Raj Nair is leaving the company “effective immediately” after an internal investigation into allegations of inappropriate behavior. “Certain behavior by Nair was inconsistent with the company’s code of conduct,” the company writes in a statement. No further specifics were given about which parts of the company’s code of conduct were violated…

“I sincerely regret that there have been instances where I have not exhibited leadership behaviors consistent with the principles that the Company and I have always espoused,” Nair said in the company’s statement. “I continue to have the utmost faith in the people of Ford Motor Company and wish them continued success in the future.”

These are the sorts of corrosive practices which don’t disappear entirely unless there’s continual public scrutiny, but is that going to happen? It only takes a few (or in some cases, only one) women making accusations against a high profile Hollywood figure or member of Congress and the spotlights hit them and stay on them. But what about the inside of an auto plant?

This is something we’ve been harping on here from the beginning. Everyone will perk up their ears when someone at the level of Angelina Jolie makes an accusation. But nobody has ever heard of these women working in the plants at Ford. More than fifty of them (!) have come forward, but we don’t even know their names and they aren’t featured on CNN or NBC News except for the occasional mention of the problems at Ford.

And while I don’t mean to minimize the abuse faced by young women showing up on the silver screen, these workers at Ford and all the other companies around the country you never see inside of are the ones who really need help. The problem with bringing these abuses to light is that the story turned out to be so huge that the press could never cover all of it at the level it deserves.