BELLEVILLE, Ill. – A Belleville company is under fire for a calendar drawing an employee found offensive.
The drawing was part of a company art contest for employee children to spotlight safety in 2020.
It was the page for January in this year’s Empire Comfort Systems workplace safety calendar.
J.D. Dixon has worked there for over three years.
“There’s no denying exactly what it is. It’s clear. This man is all white with a red hat. This man was colored in black deliberately … with a fork stabbing straight through it.”
Dixon said it’s nothing like the other calendar pages that look like typical child drawings.
“For one, this picture looks extremely violent compared to the rest of the images in the calendar,” he said.
Empire comfort systems put out a memo to employees saying, “The drawing is a copy of an OSHA caution sign.”
Empire put the artwork in the memo – next to a warning sign you can buy online. The company added: “We have instructed our managers to remove any remaining safety calendars … There is a clear opportunity to increase dialogue regarding race and discrimination in our company.”
Dixon is marching in Belleville’s streets to raise awareness about racial issues and discrimination. He takes it personally. The calendar entry is credited to the child of a former supervisor and while it does appear to be a copy of a warning sign you can buy – it’s not OSHA approved – some of the signs on the site are apparently meant to be satirical.
Dixon said some people made him feel like he couldn’t take a joke.
“It hurt me even more. It made me feel like we were nothing like – just like all the years and the way people have always done black people, man,” he said. “‘It’s just a joke,’ ‘You’re taking it too hard,’ ‘Oh, it’s ok.’ It’s easy to say it’s a joke and it’s ok when it doesn’t affect you or it’s not related to you.”
Empire Comfort Systems first sent FOX 2 this statement about its response:
At Empire Comfort Systems, we’re taking specific steps to improve everyone’s personal and business relationships with each other and also to improve our dialogue regarding race and discrimination.
Our recently established 14-member Diversity Panel, which reflects all employees, is making progress and continues to meet with discussion leaders provided by the Belleville Human Relations Commission and the Belleville Center for Racial Harmony.
The Diversity Panel’s initial report, which will include multiple suggestions, recommendations, and specific action steps, will be shared with all employees, who then will be challenged to participate in the specific action steps over the next months and years.
We are building a more diverse team. To do so, we are committed to a deliberate and continuing internal process that recognizes our many different sensitivities and that will lead us in updating and refining our corporate culture.Ron O’Connor, Empire spokesman
Empire followed up with us again, reporting good progress. Here’s the latest from the company as of August 11:
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