On June 15, 2022, Danyell Wallace went to punch in for her shift at the Hostess factory in the Galewood neighborhood of Chicago. When she walked in for what she thought was a normal shift, she said she was told by a security guard that Human Resources wanted to see her.
She was terminated for taking excess break time.
Wallace, who identifies as transgender, and other Black LGBTQ workers who are members of the organization Black Workers Matter are accusing the company of discrimination based on their gender identity.
According to Black Workers Matter, in addition to Wallace, four other workers were fired in 2022. This comes as the sweets company has been publicizing its work around diversity equity and inclusion, with a report released in June and the creation of a new inclusion committee.
Hostess did not respond to a request for comment.
“I know I was singled out [for my identity],” Wallace said. “I was upset. I was ticked.”
Wallace says she experienced harassment after she used a single stall woman’s bathroom where she feels safer and more comfortable than the men’s bathroom. She says if Hostess had gender-neutral bathrooms she would have felt more comfortable at work.
According to Wallace, her supervisor had a history of spreading rumors about her and referring to her with derogatory comments.
In addition, at a workplace with nearly 600 employees, Wallace and other workers are accusing the company of segregating all the LGBTQ workers on Fryer Line 2 within the factory.
Garland Rose, another worker at the Hostess factory, used to work on Fryer Line 3. However, after he wore a Pride shirt to work, he was placed on Fryer Line 2 where he worked alongside Wallace. Rose was fired shortly after attending the Pride parade in June 2022 with some other co-workers.
According to Ramona Hudson, another Hostess worker, segregated Fryer Lines are the norm at the Hostess bakery. Fryer Line 3 is majority Black LGBTQ workers. Fryer Lines 1 and 2 are majority Latinx.
“My thing is, why is this still happening?” Hudson said.
Rose and Wallace claim that the company is holding LGBTQ workers to a double standard and disciplining them for violations that commonly occur among all workers but are not enforced.
According to Wallace, workers often take an extra five or 10 minutes on their breaks but are rarely disciplined for it. Rose says he was fired for taking extra doughnuts home from work, another common occurrence.
“It’s easy to target a worker. The point is not that we didn’t break a rule, but the double standard,” Rose said at a press conference in front of Hostess last August. “Since my firing, I’ve had a rough time. I lost all my income. Then I lost my place and became homeless. I’ve had panic attacks and struggle with depression.”
Wallace and her co-workers are fighting to get their jobs back with back pay. According to Dan Giltoth, an organizer with Black Workers Matter, the group has raised these issues several times during meetings with Hostess, written letters, held a press conference outside the company, filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, and filed a charge with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.
Additionally, Wallace filed a grievance against the company through her union, the Chemical and Production Workers Union Local 30. However, nearly five months after the grievance was filed and ready to head to arbitration, the union pulled the grievance.
The union did not respond to a request for comment.
According to Yvette McCallum, a board member of Black Workers Matter and a former worker at Bimbo Bakeries USA, located in Cicero, who is represented by the same union, Local 30 often takes the side of the companies rather than fighting for its workers. It’s why many workers have turned to Black Workers Matter to organize around workplace issues.
Black LGBTQ workers say they face harassment and discrimination on the floors of Hostess’ Galewood factory, they feel a disconnect between their everyday experiences and Hostess’ public announcements of the work the company is doing around diversity and inclusion.
Hostess’ Diversity and Equity policy states that, “We are on a journey to continuously improve and foster a culture of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, where everyone is comfortable bringing their whole self to work.”
Hostess workers are calling on the company to live their values and promote inclusion by reinstating the jobs of fired LGBTQ workers with back pay. Wallace says she doesn’t feel like Hostess has created a welcoming environment for her. Neither does Rose.
“Hostess talks a lot about diversity and anti-racism — now they can prove they mean it,” Rose said at the press conference.