by Al Osorio
Daryle Washington is a father, a native San Franciscan and a hard working family man. He is also the victim of a racist employer who has jeopardized his ability to provide for himself and his five children.
According to Mr. Washington, he is not the only one mistreated by this employer, Recology Corp. of San Francisco. There has been a pattern of poor training, leading to the physical stress of long hours and injuries for garbage truck drivers and the emotional distress of racial jokes and remarks – remarks about “low-lifes” and “monkeys” – as well as nooses placed in full view of Black employees.
Here in his own words is Daryle describing his experience while being interviewed by Poor Magazine’s street newsroom:
Asked for an example of the consequences of insufficient training, Daryle says, “I injured myself while trying to keep pace, and the manager informed me that if I reported the injury, without being past probation, I would be terminated.”
Few experiences of racism in employment are more traumatic than the death threat represented by a noose. Daryle describes his experience:
“On Dec. 10, 2013, I went to work on my regular shift, 12:30-9 p.m., and around 1:30 a white coworker I’ll call JP picked up a rope tied into a noose knot he found on the sort line and walked out of his stall, tightening it as he approached another coworker who was Black, named Greg, and put it in his stall. Five people saw the incident – four Black employees, including myself, and a Jewish co-worker, who told JP not to pick up the noose or do anything with it.
“Each coworker was just as shocked as I was. Greg was upset and shared a few choice words with JP, as did a Black female employee named Michelle. JP thought this was funny. Around 6 p.m., I couldn’t take the sense of frustration and anger any longer and went to tell my supervisor what happened. He immediately called his manager, and they decided to send JP to another spot away from all of us who were frustrated with his actions.
“As Greg and I were filling out the incident report, JP walked into the break room and asked what was going on. Greg and I ignored him. After turning in that report, I was told there is a zero tolerance policy for this sort of behavior at Recology, but that things like this have happened in the past and not much was done. I returned to work.
“The following day, I was contacted by a human resources manager whom wanted me to give her a verbal report of what happened the night before with the noose incident. I told her I was very offended by what transpired and that this blatant racism, hate and bigotry didn’t affect only one person but everyone who saw it.
“She assured me that an investigation is going on and that if found guilty JP would be punished. The next day JP was not there and my supervisor said he’d been suspended pending the investigation. But JP was back to work on the sixth day.
“I was upset and spoke to my supervisor and his manager about my fear of what JP may do next, that he may bring a gun to work, and since he knew Greg and I reported him, we could be in danger. I was having a tough time working around JP. He would smirk or shake his head at me as if to taunt me. I overheard JP tell another coworker that his mom is dating someone in management and that he has nothing to worry about.
“I again spoke to management and was told they would look into the matter. Immediately after JP came back to work from his suspension, I started looking for other positions I am qualified for in the company because I no longer felt safe working around JP and that no justice was done for his actions. I started not getting sleep at night, feeling anxious and worthless.
“On Dec. 30, JP picked up a Jet magazine off of the line and threw it at another Black employee named David. David reported the incident and JP was suspended again. I was on light duty for a wrist injury I suffered in October, which the doctor said may have not healed properly due to my stress and anxiety at the job.
“Before JP came back, I spoke again to management about his behavior and how it’s not right for me to have to work in this sort of environment. The manager assured me that JP will be punished severely since this is his second incident. I asked if I or JP could be moved if he is not fired because I don’t feel comfortable working around him. I also asked if he could give a word of recommendation to another driving job I applied for, and the manager said he would, but I never heard back.
Few experiences of racism in employment are more traumatic than the death threat represented by a noose.
“A few days passed and JP was back at work. I immediately called my union rep and explained to him that this is not right and I am having a hard time working with JP after his second incident. John told me his hands are tied and that if the operations manager had reported the first incident correctly and not combined the two, JP possibly could have been terminated.
“In February, I contacted my union rep again about the hard time I’m having still and he said he would contact HR and have them give me a call concerning worker counseling. I never heard anything from HR or my union after that until April 30, 2014. One day when I went to work, I sat in the car and couldn’t move. I was breathing hard and having chest pains and a bad headache.
“My supervisor came and found me and I told him I was having a hard time working with JP still. He told me to either get over it or go home, so I went home. I called in sick the next day because I just didn’t want to go to work anymore. The doctor who was handling my wrist injury took me off of work.
“I spoke to the safety manager about needing counseling for the stress and anxiety associated with working around JP. He brushed it off.
“That following week I applied for another driving position but have yet to hear back. Toward the end of March I decided to contact the Department of Fair Employment and Housing about what seemed to be retaliation on Recology’s part due to me reporting JP. The inspector felt there were grounds to open the investigation.
“On April 25, the doctor released me back to full duty for my wrist injury. I asked Kaiser for help for my stress and anxiety since all that night I couldn’t sleep, knowing on Monday I would once again be back around JP. An occupational doctor said she was sorry I had to go through this and took me off of work for three more days.
“The safety manager called May 1 to send me to one of the company doctors immediately – after I had been asking for months for a doctor’s help concerning my anxiety and stress related issues. I went to see their doctor the same day and he was apologetic and very upset that my coworker did what he did and that my company did very little.
“He immediately scheduled an appointment with their psychologist on May 2, and I saw the psychologist up until May 23 when he wrote a modified note to my company restricting me from working in the proximity of JP. Recology refused to honor the restrictions at that time. I again contacted my union rep. My workers comp claim for stress was denied, and I wasn’t allowed to return to work on modified duty.
“The head of Human Resources for Recology in San Francisco informed me that if they allowed me to come back to work under modified status it would set a precedent and anyone could bring a doctor’s note that would restrict them from working around another employee. In earlier talks with her, she had asked me, ‘What happened to your coping mechanism?’
“I informed her that I have been working in the construction field for over 14 years, and from a job with Atlas Plastering on the SFO international terminal years ago all the way to the Third Street light rail working with CMC Traffic as a subcontractor to Mitchell Engineering, I have seen nooses hanging in the back of pickups, on job sites, heard the Black and Latino jokes and White workers call Black workers niggers.
“I explained that it’s only so much a person can take. I have lost family members to the Klan in the South years ago and I have heard the stories and know my history well. I also informed her that this is 2014 and although many things only appear to have changed, it appears many have gotten worse.”
Mr. Washington is speaking out on these injustices not only for himself but for the other employees subjected to this abuse. The racism evident in the company misbehavior appears to be at worst intentional, at best tolerated by management, and the employees are expected to put up with it in order to keep their jobs.
Mr. Washington is speaking out on these injustices not only for himself but for the other employees subjected to this abuse.
Clearly Daryle is able to detail a pattern of harassment of employees of color, in particular Black employees, from improper training and racist jokes to nooses in the workplace and lack of time to recover from on-the-job injuries. Having lost family members to Klan activity in the South, he is both personally and historically aware of the extent to which some people will go to punish Black people who stand up to the system.
Here are some closing words from Daryle:
“As of today I have stopped action by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and have obtained a right to sue letter, and I’m moving forward with that. As of June 17, I have not received any money from Recology or their insurance company, Corvel Corp., since April 17. It is only by the grace of God that my landlord has not kicked me out on the streets; without a loving family and friends I would have had many hungry nights.
“I am the father of five children, and all I want to do is provide for them. I want justice, not only for myself but justice for the rest of the Black employees at Recology who have to work under the pressure of wrong and injustice and have to live in fear of losing their job if they speak up.
“I want the City of San Francisco to investigate what’s going on, since Recology is contracted to pick up San Francisco’s garbage. I want a call to action to interrupt services until they make changes and correctly deal with the racial issues going on.
“How the company in the past and present treats some so-called minorities is not right, and they need to be held accountable for it. Open up the books and let’s see how many have not been given fair and equal treatment.”
Well known as an activist for justice on police abuse as well as economic racism, Al Osorio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.