Thursday, December 6, 2007

Racism is Nothing New to Philadelphia's Trade Unions

They call Philadelphia the City of Brotherly Love. However, anyone who knows anything about Philly knows there's nothing brotherly about it--especially if you're a union construction worker who also happens to be a minority. In fact, it's surprising that the only sheets you see in Philadelphia are the bedsheets drying on clothes lines.

This morning, as we were posting news items for, we ran across the Philadelphia Inquirer story of Paul Solomon, a black construction worker in Philadelphia who, about a month ago, complained that another construction worker from the Glaziers' union had brandished a noose while working at the city's Comcast Center.

The incident spawned a demonstration called Build Smarter: End Discrimination in Philadelphia's Construction Industry Now!

Well, this morning's article mentioned a couple of things that piqued our attention:

First, the alleged perpetrator of the noose incident has not been allowed to work back at the Comcast Center. However, the Inquirer article does not say that the union (part of the Painters and Allied Trades) has done anything else to further discipline its member, nor does the article state that the union has done anything affirmative to ensure racial incidents will not occur in the future.

Second, Mr. Solomon's own union seems to be retaliating against him for lodging the complaint about the noose.

In fact, Mr. Solomon claims that since he complained about the Oct. 1st incident, he's been "blackballed as a 'trouble maker.'"

However, once we saw that Mr. Solomon is a member of Operating Engineers Local 542, in Fort Washington, PA, it didn't seem too hard to believe. You see, IUOE 542 seems to have a long history of denying diversity is a part of the American fabric--whether you're in a union or not.

In fact, instead of just calling the union hall and being satisfied with writing: "...Local 542 of the International Union of Operating Engineers did not return calls seeking comment yesterday," the Philly Inquirer writer should have dug a little deeper.

Had he done some real investigative journalism he might have found, based on Local 542's past, that Mr. Solomon may not be wrong in feeling as though he's being blackballed.

Although the union bosses in Philadelphia may want to keep their dirty little secret under their sheets, the problem is:

IUOE, LOCAL 542 HAS HAD MORE THAN 30 YEARS OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION ALLEGATIONS, as well as a U.S. Court-Ordered Supervision of Local 542 because of Racial Discrimination

NOVEMBER, 1971: 12 black plaintiffs, on behalf of an entire class of minority workers, sued Local 542 of the Operating Engineers for:

  • discriminatory membership practices;
  • discriminatory hiring hall practices;
  • discrimination in the hours of work given and the wages earned; and
  • unfair representation.

JUNE 19, 1972: Plaintiffs John Dent and Marion Eaddy, while at a Local 542 hiring hall, were physically attacked by three white members of Local 542. This attack took place in front of Local 542’s business agent and approximately 15 members of the union.

JUNE 20, 1972: Plaintiffs Cleveland Allen, John Dent, and Marion Eaddy were beaten outside of Local 542’s hiring hall by at least fifteen white members of Local 542.

JUNE 20, 1972 - JUNE 22, 1972: An emergency hearing had to be held regarding the violence on June 19th and the morning of June 20th.

AUGUST 4, 1972: The Court found that white members of Local 542 had repeatedly attacked the plaintiffs, as retaliation for filing the lawsuit. Because of this, the Judge prohibited all members of Local 542 from:

Threatening, intimidating, harassing, assaulting, injuring, or otherwise interfering in any manner with the named and class plaintiffs’ federal statutory and Constitutional rights to be free from retaliation because of their instituting and processing the instant employment discrimination lawsuit; and
Doing any and all other acts which in any manner interfere with named and class plaintiffs’ federal statutory and Constitutional rights to institute and process the instant employment discrimination lawsuit.

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et. al. v. Local Union No. 542, International Union of Operating Engineers, 347 F.Supp. 268, 302 (E.D. Pa. 1972). The Judge finished by writing that all Federal Marshalls would be available to enforce his order.

JANUARY 19, 1976: The trial into Local 542’s racially discriminatory practices begins.

NOVEMBER 30, 1978: Nearly three years later, the Judge ruled that Local 542 discriminated against minorities. Specifically, the court found:

“At the critical level of viable jobs and equal opportunities, there were intentional and persistent efforts to exclude and discourage most of the minorities who, but for their race, would have been considered for entry into the union and for the more lucrative jobs.” Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Raymond Williams, et. al. v. Local Union 542, International Union of Operating Engineers, 469 F. Supp. 329, 337 (E.D. Pa 1978), (emphasis added), aff’d 648 F.2d 922 (3rd Cir 1981).

The Court also found that Local 542 had repeatedly misrepresented the number of minorities in the union. In 1968, an official with Local 542 estimated that there were approximately 650 minority members out of the total membership of 5000. By 1969, the union determined that there were only 400 minority members out of a total membership of 6000. In a document filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Local 542 finally admitted that it had a mere 259 minority members out of a total membership of 6128. As the Judge wrote:

“It is not acceptable to describe the repeated gross inaccuracies as merely incorrect guesses. . . . While it is conceivable that in one instance the union could have inadvertently made a significant error in overestimating the number of minorities in the union, it is incredible that errors of this magnitude could have occurred consistently by any mere coincidence. . .. Only a finding of discriminatory intent can explain this subterfuge.” 469 F.Supp. at 344, (emphasis added).

AUGUST 8, 1979: The Court enters a “CONSENT DECREE” against Local 542. The first portion of that document, called a PERMANENT INJUNCTION, orders that:

“Defendants shall not discriminate against any minority person because of his color or national origin, with respect to acquisition, retention of membership or affiliation in said local union, with respect to referral and selection for employment, with respect to any training, retraining or upgrading programs, or with respect to any other terms and conditions of employment, union membership or affiliation.”

The document goes on to order Local 542 to increase minority representation in the union and ensure EQUAL WORK AND PAY between minority and white members.

The court decided it needed to oversee Local 542’s compliance with the order, at least through March 31, 1984. A Special Master, attorney Frank Jenkins, was appointed to monitor Local 542’s performance regarding these goals.

DECEMBER 15, 1982: The court approves a monetary settlement reached between the plaintiffs and the union. Local 542 agrees to pay the plaintiffs $1.5 MILLION because of the discrimination.

MAY, 1985: Special Master Frank Jenkins found that Local 542 was still discriminating against minorities.

OCTOBER 10, 1985: The Court, in agreeing with the Special Master, holds Local 542 in contempt of court for failing to take the actions required by the 1979 Consent Decree. Specifically, the Court found that:

“The union was given five years in which to prove to this court that it could operate the hiring hall in a non-discriminatory, fair and equitable manner. The court finds that the union has failed in this regard and to the contrary, has continued to use the hiring hall as a tool of discrimination, albeit at a reduced level, but discrimination nevertheless.” Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et. al. v. Local 542, International Union of Operating Engineers, 619 F.Supp. 1273, 1277 (E.D Pa 1985), aff’d 807 F.2d 330 (3rd Cir 1986).

As a result of the ongoing discrimination, the Court appointed a full-time Hiring Hall Monitor to oversee the day-to-day operations of the hiring hall. The Court also extended the Consent Decree through August 31, 1987.

MAY 12, 1987: The Judge established a Civil Rights Committee to monitor Local 542’s activities. The Judge also ordered that the Special Master (Mark Halpern, attorney-at-law) provide a report on Local 542’s activities by October 15, 1993.

APRIL 30, 1989: Special Master Halpern, and the Court, ended the day-to-day monitoring of Local 542. According to Mr. Halprin, Local 542 had “earned the right to serve as its own watchdog.”

MAY 25, 1993: Because of the numerous complaints received by the Court alleging discrimination by Local 542 against minority union members, the Court ordered Special Master Halpern to again investigate Local 542’s hiring/assignment practices.

APRIL 15, 1994: Local 542 is again placed under strict court supervision. According to Mr. Halpern’s report, the “gains made by minorities prior to April 1989, when court supervision was lifted by Bechtle, were ‘wiped out’ in the following four years.”

JULY 20, 1998: Even though the Civil Rights Committee had been around for over 10 years, Local 542 continued to violate the rules regarding the election of four of the members. Even though only minorities were entitled to vote on the four elected members, Local 542 allowed white women to also vote. Local 542 was ordered to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees - $11,869.50 in total.

AND THE ISSUES CONTINUED MORE THAN 30 YEARS LATER. February 16, 2000, a lawsuit by five black members of Local 542 for discrimination was filed against Local 542 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. (Willie Lee Jackson, et al. v. Local Union 542, International Union of Operating Engineers, Civil Action No. 00-854)

It would appear that Mr. Solomon isn't alone in feeling that the City of Brotherly Love's trade unions aren't living up to their city's motto. For, in Philadelphia, there is too much history of discrimination that, in the end, may prove Mr. Solomon wiser than the crackers who take his monthly dues.


Anonymous said...

I want to remain anonymous, but I'll tell you that here in May 2008 there is still racism in the union. If you investigate the Delaware, District 5 Hall, you'll see what I'm speaking of. The BA's are still collecting paychecks but aren't doing anything to drum up work and only give work out to family and friends....racism and nepotism. Someone really should look closely at the inner workings. I promise, you wouldn't be disappointed. said...

Dear Anonymous:

While we'd like to look into your (above) allegation, we need more information as to which union you're talking about. District 5, is a bit too broad.

Thank you for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Sorry. I just assumed that you'd know I was speaking of Local 542. Same guys work over and over and over because they're in the clique of friends and family of the agents in the hall. The whole concept of the union is lost in Local 542. I bet if you investigated it you would see it like it is, same men working continuously. They get laid off and then put right back out on another job without any consideration to the names on the list that are supposed to rotate.

Anonymous said...

And it's been months since I've left that comment and it's still going on. I lost the link so that's why I'm late in my reply.

Anonymous said...

Paul Solomon has been a lawsuit in the making. I worked with him.

Anyone who can do the work has had all the opportunity in the world to get work in Local 542's jurisdiction. The union allows a member to seek his own job without waiting for the union to call him. I worked for more than 10 years by soliciting my jobs. If you wait for the union to call, you may be under-skilled or lazy. Those that need the money will not wait for the phone to ring. If they have the skills, they solicit the jobs and go to work. I am white, have worked 35 years in the local and not related to nor friends with anyone. I get my jobs on my own and it works!nourip

Anonymous said...

Here we go again the real story is what can Paul solomon operate? Hoist-generator. Is he qualified to run a crane? I'm not working around his rig!
All the above is true.Without any skills you are pretty much in a narrow field. How many elevator or hoists jobs do you think are available? As with any job your performance speaks multitudes. If you show up and perform to the contract specifics, Great job, if there's more work you may be recalled. If you are the bum, when the job is over you get laid off and probably sit until another job and this is the important part - "a job you are qualified to perform" you will be called. the question is; "Will you screw this contractor too?"
also when things get tight and work gets slow, like the past 2 years in Phila. everyone comes out of the woodwork trying to cherry pick the work. Well guess what you've laid down and hurt the contractor and he remembers you. the union (542) has no control as to who the contractor does or does not want on their expensive equioment, representing them in their contractural work scope. If you can't get a job maybe you need to upgrade yor skills! It's your responsibility to upgrade and update your qualification card at the hall.
Leaving it empty and saying you're not getting called is BS or you are lazy ass can't operate a wheel barrow.
Now as far as the lawsuits, there are always people looking for the big payday handout.
Most are frivolous and the plaintiffs do create there own persona. You are still a lazy dumb ass!
I've been in the union (542) for 25 years and have only gotten called to follow some jackass who couldn't perform to the contractor's request. Beyond that I get my own work because contractors know I show up every day and strive to make money for the company, take care of their equipment and represent the union and the contractor. Is that fair enough? Would you pay someone for screwing up with you stuff every time they worked for you? I thought not! Maybe you should look for other work or get some dignity and represent the union that provides the benefits that you take for granted.

Anonymous said...

What if you are qualified, overly so, and when you work for a contractor and do a good job and they even sing your praises and they do a recall but the union hall tells them you aren't available? That's what happens A LOT. I've heard three different contractors say this. Sure, if you're lazy or unskilled then I absolutely agree that it's the worker's problem not the union's.

Anonymous said...

Paul's case is unique in that Paul was once a union insider. His testimony was an integral part used against an individual (minority) to get the person voted out of the union. However, now we see a paradox of Paul's character, is he the vehement liar that the union's leadership now portrayes? Or is he a conscientious union member that was confronted with a venomous symbol of racial hatred and the union (leadership) walked away from? Well based on what side of the union aisle you are on your perspective of who he is may differ. Local 542 and other unions have a well documented history of racial discrimination and bigotry. I feel their lack of response to the media on this matter is an indictment against themselves. Furthermore, the "flip flopping" of who Paul now is fosters the old adage, "if you live by the sword, you die by the sword."

Anonymous said...

Hello, I have felt the pain for years from my father’s doings and a person to be a BA of mine. They had never seen eye to eye then the dirt got even dirtier after I was hurt on the job, So much fun! The next thing was to place me solo with bad instructions (thanks) given, and too make it worse. This is after two solid days of rain, I’m told to push up a pile of clay (mix), without any back-up radio. The point is they had known right well come the point to can me (fire). The BA said not one word in my favor sitting there. The one thing they had on me, was me getting hurt on the job (I reported it to the safety man, the very next day). I was on the second shift. The safety man (first shift) went home around 4pm. Do to this I will never ever work again (never got paid). I have seen a few brothers that have pushed out or around in the (542) hell. It was good when it was good but bad as hell when it is was bad. IUOE 542 is O.K. But watch your P’s and Q’s, or you pay like some others have. I was one that was standing the picket lines, checking books, and busting my ass getting the job done. I now feel left out. It’s like some of the ball washers took away the fun here.

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This kind of trade union should be illegal in Philadelphia and across the world, racism should disappear already. I definitely disagree with the discrimination.

Anonymous said...

the white working man is the minority now. you don't hear us bitching. hope your satisfied.

Anonymous said...

I have worked for the sheetmetal local 19 for the last 14 yrs i just found out that i only have 6yrs and there has been work but it seems that if you are black you won't be able to retire with the yrs you need to have the same chance to have what the white brother has to see doctor's or have the money too live a good life after you retire.

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Anonymous said...

Paul Solomon is a bum who can't run shit...hard working young white men are paying for mistakes in the past they had nothing to do with.....minorities are given membership to the local just because they are minorities....this takes a spot away from good men who would die for that book...and once that said minority figures he or she can't hack it, they bail out....great system

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And it's been months since I've left that comment and it's still going on. I lost the link so that's why I'm late in my reply.

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