Sexual harassment and assault against women warehouse employees is widespread in Will County, a report recently released by the Warehouse Workers for Justice shows.
The report, “Women at Work, Women at Risk: Sexual harassment and assault in Will County warehouses,” includes testimony from several female workers who spoke about their workplace abuse experiences at a Warehouse Workers for Justice public hearing held on March 8 in Joliet.
In many cases the report found employers did little when women workers came forward about harassment, and in some instances, the employer retaliated against the employee.
“(Harassment) is alive and well in the warehouse industry,” said Leah Fried, a spokeswoman for Warehouse Workers for Justice, a worker-led organization created in 2009 to stop wage theft and discrimination in Illinois warehouses. “Women are being punished [for] try[ing] to and stop it.”
She said one warehouse “horror story” that’s featured in the report happened at the Partners Warehouse in Elwood.
Priscilla Marshall, who was 19 at the time, was the victim of pervasive touching from her 45-year-old supervisor when she worked at the warehouse.
Marshall went to her employer after the supervisor made an appearance at her house and coerced her into having sex, according to the report.
The employer did not act, and instead, the warehouse made allegations of theft against Marshall and other female workers who came forward.
The Illinois state’s attorney has since brought in a special investigator to review the case, the report states.
Uylonda Dickerson, who’s also featured in the report, said while she was working in an Elwood warehouse for Walmart, male employees locked her inside a trailer.
“The men thought that that was what I was there for, I guess,” she said. “I reported it to my supervisor, but he didn’t do anything about it.”
Dickerson said when she reported various instances of abuse she would get “smart remarks” from her superiors.
“They’d say, like did I break my toenail, or did I chip a nail, or something like that,” she said. “But when you report it, it’s like you did something bad.”
Another woman who worked at the Elwood Walmart warehouse said men would stand over her and other female employees and watch as they bent over to pick up boxes.
“I just wanted to come to work, do my job and go home without having to work in an environment like that,” Latasha Davis said. “It got to the point where we as women didn’t want to get up and go to work – but we have no other choice. We have bills to pay and kids to take care of.”
This is not the first time the Walmart warehouse has been under scrutiny from Warehouse Workers for Justice. Progress Illinois reported in February about the mass firings and wage theft at the warehouse as well as a lawsuit filed by workers last year alleging unfair practices.
Elizabeth Labrador, who worked at the Petco warehouse in Joliet, she said she was paid about $3 less per hour than male employees who did the same job.
“When I brought the issue to management, instead of fixing the problem, they started assigning me to the hardest jobs in the warehouse,” Labrador said.
She said her supervisor assigned her to lifting 100-pound fish tanks, and during that task she injured her back. When she told her supervisor about her injury, she said he yelled at her.
“The supervisor was mad, because they get bonuses when there are no accidents,” she said.
Samantha Rodriguez, who worked at the Walmart warehouse, said male employees touched her inappropriately.
“They were constantly asking me for my phone number, touching my butt, my boobs,” she said. “I had one guy try to stick his hand down my shirt. I don’t want that.”
Lawyer Peter LaSorsa, who represents individuals in sexual harassment cases in Illinois, said companies have to take sexual assault and harassment seriously.
“People who engage in that behavior need to be fired or severely disciplined to stop that and send a message that it’s not tolerated,” he said.
LaSorsa added when employers do not take sexual harassment allegations seriously “you send a bad message that we really don’t care, or it’s tolerated or we can’t be bothered.”
Individuals who are the victim of sexual harassment or assault have 180 days from the incident to report it to the Illinois Department of Human Rights, LaSorsa said. If that deadline is missed, an individual has a total of 300 days from the incident to report it to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.