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National Organization for Women president Patricia Ireland declared Detroit Edison a "merchant of shame" during a Detroit speech Saturday.
"Electricity is not the only thing that is shocking at Detroit Edison," said Ireland after listening to two female employees allegations of years of sexual harassment at the utility. The two women stood before lewd drawings they say were posted throughout Edisons power plants.
"Were going to help Detroit Edison see the light," Ireland vowed.
About 180 employees from the public and private sectors attended the four-hour Protect Your Rights 2000 forum in Detroit to talk about workplace problems and to build a coalition to support Edison employees. The Edison employees who organized the conference filed a class-action lawsuit earlier this year accusing the utility of sex and race discrimination. The utility is fighting back in court and criticized Saturdays conference as well.
As part of its Women-Friendly Workplace Campaign, which targets Fortune 500 companies that allegedly tolerate employee abuse, NOW asked Detroit Edison CEO Anthony Early to sign a pledge vowing the company would provide a workplace free of harassment and discrimination. Early refused to sign, said Ireland, after which NOW declared the utility a merchant of shame. "This is something we dont do lightly. We do it with great seriousness," she said.
With deregulation approaching, NOWs campaign is intended to turn up the heat on Edison at a time when it could soon become more vulnerable to consumer pressure.
Detroit Edison human resource manager Marva Goldsmith said Irelands accusations are unfair. "My initial response is shame on NOW for suggesting we belong on the list," said Goldsmith. She said that Early supported the portion of the pledge that asks employers to not tolerate harassment or discrimination, but that he had questions about a provision asking employers to provide benefits to same-sex couples. After meeting with Ireland in Washington, D.C., last spring, said Goldsmith, Early sent NOW a letter seeking clarification. She also said Early called Ireland five times in May, but never received a response.
"I dont think its accurate that he refused to sign it," said Goldsmith. "Weve asked for information on domestic partners and we never received any information back on that. We could not sign without fully understanding it."
Goldsmith also said that the company has a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination and harassment.