- A noose has been found on a Merck construction site funded by $105.4 million from the federal government to produce Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine.
- Merck, a multinational pharmaceutical company with U.S. headquarters in New Jersey, confirmed in an email to Construction Dive the discovery of a noose on the 262-acre facility near Durham, North Carolina. "We have zero tolerance for hate, racism, or discrimination in our workplace or society," said Patrick Ryan, Merck spokesperson. "Currently, we are investigating the incident that occurred at our Durham, North Carolina, site."
- Merck did not respond to more detailed questions about what the company was doing to investigate the discovery of the noose on the site, or whether security cameras are in use at the project. Neither Johnson & Johnson nor the Department of Health and Human Services, which is funding changes to the facility to help expedite vaccine manufacturing there, responded to requests for comment from Construction Dive.
HHS committed $105.4 million in funding to the site in March, when President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to allocate money to retrofit the plant. The Biden administration has consistently emphasized diversity and inclusion initiatives on its proposed infrastructure projects.
In an email to sent to employees on June 5 that was signed by 17 Merck executives, the company said a rope fashioned as a noose was found by a contractor on site, according to the Raleigh, North Carolina, News & Observer newspaper, which first reported the story.
“Actions such as these will not be tolerated and individuals found committing such acts will be dealt with swiftly and severely,” site management said in the email, according to the newspaper. “As a leadership team, we are disgusted that anyone on our plant site would engage in such behavior.”
Meanwhile, in Rotterdam, New York, a construction worker has been arrested for allegedly crafting construction materials into a figure resembling a person of color, and hanging it in effigy on a construction site with a noose made of twine, according to Upstate New York news source NYup.com.
These cases follow similar events at an Amazon construction site in Windsor, Connecticut, where as many as eight nooses have been found since April 27. Amazon and general contractor RC Andersen have condemned the acts, and the FBI is investigating the case, but few leads have emerged, even as security has been beefed up and hundreds of cameras have been installed on site.
The incidents come at a time when many construction companies are upping their diversity and inclusion efforts, in part to attract younger workers into the field. For example, 547 companies have taken the Associated General Contractors of America's Culture of CARE pledge, in which they vow to provide a workplace free of harassment, hazing and bullying.
The emergence of racist symbols on construction sites led to an award-winning series by Construction Dive last fall that found that while the incidents were getting plenty of news coverage during 2020's social upheaval, they were also nothing new in the sector.
Workers of color shared stories including discovering swastikas onsite, being threatened by co-workers who said they would push them off the roof they were working on and being relegated to ride in the bed of a pickup truck in 100 degree heat to make room for White workers lunch boxes in the air-conditioned cab.