Out of the Closet: A Sanitation Worker Fights Discrimination

I never dealt with discrimination until I came to work as a sanitation worker at Krasdale Foods.

There used to be 11 out lesbians working at the company, including me. But management harassed us so badly that most of the women left. Soon there were just three of us: Cindy, Paula, and me.

Just imagine you’re pulling a glue trap that’s stuck to a wooden pallet, and a dead mouse busts open on you—and you have to leave work in those same clothes, and take the bus or train home stinking. This has happened to me. Honestly, you would have left too.

The other Teamsters in the warehouse change in a men’s locker room. At first when they hired me, I shared the clerks’ co-ed locker room. The clerks just have to remove their shoes or jacket, but I actually have to change my work clothes.

When I went to take my shirt off, men would purposely walk in on me. They would say things like, “You want to be a man? Then be one, change like one.”

I went to the manager. He told me to drag a three-part locker into the women’s bathroom and change there. I was cool with that, because at least we had privacy. But all hell broke loose. Other women complained about us being there: the three butches in the women’s bathroom.

The director moved us again. The harassment went on, and I kept raising hell. One guy scratched a hole so he could look into our changing area and watch us getting undressed.

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Then one day the maintenance manager said, “Come get some garbage bags to get the sheetrock up off the floor.” I helped him tear down the co-ed locker room, to make room for a new female locker room. I was so happy... until I found out they still wouldn’t let us change in there.

Next management tried to make us change in the first aid room, basically a closet for emergency medical supplies, directly across from the men’s bathroom.

I filed a discrimination grievance and wrote up a petition. It asked, “Do the union members think that Arlena and Paula should be segregated from the women’s locker room?” The petition got 101 signatures saying “No.”

Paula was fed up by then and took a buyout, but I wasn’t finished. Management had to go to arbitration for trying to put me in that closet. The arbitrator thought it was disgraceful.

But they still won’t let me in the women’s locker room. Instead they split the supervisors’ locker room, creating a jail-size holding pen for me. It’s just enough room for one person.

Now tell me. If there’s only room for me, that means they plan on never hiring another female for warehouse work. That means when I leave, no more women will be hired, especially not gay ones. Even today I’m still being harassed! And it’s a shame to have lost all these people who could have made this job a career.

Arlena Dean is a steward in Teamsters Local 802 and a member of Teamsters for a Democratic Union.