06 January 2016

She Wasn't Having It (foul pranks and management shrugs)

Yesterday, I Tweeted a story related by my partner after he spoke with a woman he works with. As I've received permission to share, I am posting it here with a few additional details. I am keeping all names anonymous so neither my partner (“Joe”) nor his colleague (“Donna”) encounter any backlash.

Joe and Donna work at a major international financial company; it’s one of the leading financial institutions in the world. Their particular office, a smallish one, is located in a thriving, corporate-centered city. It’s also a city where 30% of the population lives in poverty. Many employees commute daily from NYC, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and surrounding areas. Joe, a 54 year old white man, is one of those commuters; Donna, a 61 year old African-American woman, does not. They both arrive at the office quite early in the morning, so they tend to talk quite a bit.

Joe is one of the company’s Web workers; Donna is one of the company’s custodial workers—in fact, she’s the only full-time daily custodial presence. Yesterday morning, Joe saw her for the first time in a while, and he asked how she was. Donna responded, “Disgusted.” 

A few weeks before Christmas, Donna had a routine day taking care of the building’s various offices until she tended to the programmers' office floor. She vacuumed the corridor, and then she entered the men’s room. There, she saw a napkin in a urinal, along with a note reading, in caps, CLEAN THIS UP. Donna lifted the napkin, which covered a pile of feces. She was, naturally, shocked that someone had shit in the urinal and laid a napkin over it, but that abrupt, demeaning, order for her to clear it away was too much. She spun on her heel and left the room.*

Donna went to her superior to complain, but he brushed it off and said she should ignore it. Refusing this response, Donna then went to her superior's supervisor, who also said she should ignore it. Following that, Donna went to Human Resources. HR also suggested she ignore it. To Donna, the implication appeared to be that one or two of the programmers, the majority of whom are young men, were merely playing prankster, so she should not take it seriously. "Boys will be boys," etc. (I completely understand this impression because who among us wouldn’t think it would be funny to prank a middle-aged Black woman by shitting in a urinal and ordering her to clean it up?)

Donna fetched her coat and bag, and she left. She walked straight off the job. Donna refused to return to work for several days, during which time she phoned her union representative. As you might expect (for whatever reason), the union didn’t dismiss her complaints; they contacted HR directly. Donna’s union told the company that, should she return to work, in no way would she, nor the company, tolerate ill behavior by other employees.

The company assented to the union’s terms, but the precise conditions of Donna’s return are vague (I’m hoping a raise is involved. She makes $9.00 an hour. Nine dollars an hour to put up with this type of thing). Donna did return to her job, but she remains disgusted and disheartened. She is looking for work elsewhere.

Donna is impressive. Her actions, and sense of worth, are stellar, and her union’s actions are commendable, the company’s most certainly isn’t. Several levels of management shrugged off the incident, which signals approval of the “prank.” A prank where one or more well-paid, young, male commuters felt comfortable directing Donna to clean up their filth.

*in my original series of Tweets, I wrote that “she did her job,” i.e., cleaned the filth, before going to management. I later corrected that as my partner told me “Hell, no. She left it there. Who knows who cleaned it up.”

No comments: