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Thursday, Aug. 20, 2009 08:03 am

Boys gone wild

Women at the CWLP plant also feel singled out

Patty Meyer
PHOTO BY GINNY LEE
Patty Meyer made her way through the crowd gathered at city hall calling for an end to racism in Springfield to give Mike Williams a big hug and offered him a piece of advice.

“Watch your back,” she said. “I know, girl,” Williams replied.

Both of them know too well what Williams is up against in his fight to get justice for the hanging of a noose near his work station at the City Water, Light and Power water filtration plan sometime during the week between July 22 and July 26. They also know the difficulty Williams will have in changing the culture at CWLP.

Meyer and other current and former employees describe CWLP’s working environment as juvenile, attributing much of the behavior to the fact that many of the workers all attended the same private local high school. These employees also say the culture is one where racist and misogynist attitudes run rampant and dissent is met with retaliation.

Like Williams after his noose hanging, she disrupted the ecosystem of the political wildlife refuge that is CWLP when, in 2003, she filed a formal complaint against a male coworker from a prominent local family who threatened to kick her “fucking ass” at work over a non-job related matter.

“After that, if I sneezed wrong I was written up,” she says. “It was retaliation because I offended this person who was of political stature. I offended him by turning him in. It was like how dare me.”

Also, as one of two female workers, Meyer says, she was periodically assigned menial tasks like cleaning up the pornography-strewn men’s locker room.

“I’m talking Hustler, Penthouse – it was offensive,” says Meyer, who nevertheless performed the task without complaint.

A 21-year employee of CWLP, she was employed at the water plant for nine years. The final two of those years, she worked with Williams, who was one of a handful of guys who stood up for her.

Williams: “It was horrible what they did her. It was sad to watch. And that’s not to say Patty was perfect, because she made mistakes. But everybody out here has made the same mistakes she has. They just took hers and made a big deal out of it.”

Specifically, in 2005, Meyer did not notice right away that the machine had jammed that feeds lime, used to regulate pH levels, into the water. Meyer says it happens all the time but her superiors gave her the option of resigning or taking another job. On principle, she quit. Today she is a maintenance worker with Sangamon County.

“Am I happier now? Yes. I make less money but I’m treated like a human being. That’s all I ever wanted at the power plant.”

Contact R.L Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com.
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