Four African American men filed a lawsuit Friday against their employer, Mitsubishi Electric U.S., claiming they’ve been subjected to swastikas, confederate flags, nooses and racist names, among other things.
“The message I got behind it was ‘you’re not welcome here, we don’t want you here and your life is in danger,’” said elevator mechanic Leiroi Bowie.
He says he found a noose when he arrived at his job site in downtown Oakland last summer.
“I was upset, I was sad, I was frustrated. I felt alone. All types of emotions going through me,” Bowie said.
It’s just one of the many acts four elevator mechanics say they’ve been forced to endure over the past several years while working for the elevator division of Mitsubishi Electric U.S.
“It’s a good old boy industry, a good old boy trade,” said elevator mechanic Craig Martin.
The men say they’ve found racist drawings on the walls of their Bay Area job sites, images like KKK, swastikas, and hangmen. Gabriel Ross, who is also a pastor says someone drew satanic stars, phallic symbols and KKK on his tool box.
“It made me feel like trash,” he said. “I’m there to take care of my family not to defend myself from racists.”
The men say they’ve complained repeatedly to management, but nothing changed. In fact they say they’ve been punished by being forced to sweep the floor instead of working on the elevators, something referred to as “on the broom.”
“You’re the laughing stock,” said elevator mechanic Lavell Roberson. “You’re supposed to not know what you’re doing when you’re on the broom and you’ve got to be undesirable to be on the broom.”
The men also say African Americans are assigned the heavy lifting on the job site. The “front end work.” While the more desirable “back end” work like programming the elevators is given mostly to white employees. They say it’s a culture that has to change.
“It feels like being shot in the back seven times pretty much,” said Roberson.
NBC Bay Area reached out to Mitsubishi Electric U.S. who said they can’t comment of the specific allegations due to privacy issues, but in a written statement COO Mike Corbo said the company “does not tolerate harassment, discrimination or retaliation.”
He says Mitsubishi has strong anti-harassment and discrimination policies and provides regular training on them.
But the men say that’s not what they’ve experienced. They all want to continue building elevators but they demand to be treated with dignity.
“I want to be the last one that’s offended like this in our trade,” said Ross.