As we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday, it is important to reflect on the changes that he helped to bring about and how those changes have been reversed in recent years. under both the Democrats and the Republican Parties.
In one of his last speeches, given at Stanford University in April 1997 and titled the “The Other America,” King addressed the problem of the rich and the poor in this country. Instead of his “dream,” he talked about the nightmare of Blacks’ economic condition.
He talked about “work-starved men searching for jobs that did not exist,” about the Black population living on a “lonely island of poverty surrounded by an ocean of material prosperity” and about living in a “triple ghetto of race, poverty and human misery.” He explained that after World War II, the unemployment rate for Blacks and whites was equal and that in the
years between then and 1967, Black unemployment had risen to twice the rate for white workers. He also spoke about how Black workers made half the wages of white workers.
From his experience when he started his campaign for equality in Chicago and elsewhere in the North, King concluded in this speech that to deal with the problem of the “two Americas” was “much more difficult than to get rid of legal segregation.” He pointed out that the northern liberals, who had given moral and financial support to the struggle against Jim Crow, would not give such support to the efforts to end economic segregation.
He also polemicized against the concept that “people should pick themselves up by their own bootstraps.” In the course of explaining the obstacles that Blacks faced coming into this country that Europeans did not have, he stated: “It is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man to pick himself up by his own bootstraps.” Black people, he said, were “impoverished aliens in their own land.”
Black people have remained in the same economic position, except for the “talented tenth,” as W.E.B. DuBois described them, who have become politicians, lawyers for the government, doctors etc. and move from the ghetto to the suburbs as they prosper – their minds and their hearts moving with them.
In today’s America, the “Other America,” as Martin Luther King described it in 1967, is under constant attack. Unemployment is higher, pensions have been cut and drugs have been imported by the CIA and become a $1,000,000,000 a year industry to subjugate the people, who are witnessing the destruction of the “social contract” and the promise of the “American Dream” and a future for their children.
Nationwide, schools are resegregated and the cities are removing their Black populations and scattering them throughout the land with their gentrification programs. Congressman Richard Baker, R-La., was overheard telling lobbyists, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” From his point of view, Katrina made it possible for the politicians to gentrify New Orleans.
San Francisco has not been immune. The latest census showed San Francisco losing a larger proportion of its Black population than any other major city in the country. The last remaining predominantly Black community is under attack by the City. The following summations from the San Francisco BayView point out this process.
Ebony Colbert wrote that on the eve of the Martin Luther King holiday, the San Francisco Unified School District threatens to close a long list of schools in Black neighborhoods. Ebony has also been “rewarded” for her reporting on wrongdoing by BayView precinct police officers with retaliatory harassment from Mayor Newsom and the police force. Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai has written for years about the health hazards at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard and the corruption surrounding the city handing development of the Shipyard to Lennar, the nation’s largest home builder, in defiance of voters citywide who overwhelmingly rejected development until the entire Superfund site is clean.
Marie Harrison, too, has written countless stories calling for an end to environmental racism and for the City to shut down the old power plant and other sources of pollution that poison the Bay View/Hunters Point and create asthma and cancer clusters that the City ignores.
Kevin Williams wrote, in the San Francisco BayView, about another prime polluter in the neighborhood, the City’s Southeast Wastewater Treatment Plant on Phelps Street. In his article, Pollution and Prejudice: Twin weapons of mass destruction,” he said: “
Today, the Southeast Water Pollution Control Plant is polluted not just by the choking odor of human waste, especially when the digesters overflow on rainy days, but by the overflow of inhumane prejudice toward Black people in their own community, demonstrated by the hangman’s noose placed in the desk drawer of Anita Labossiere, a 23year employee and the only Black woman senior chemist working for the San Francisco Water Pollution Control Bureau. The hangman’s noose and the stress associated with such an odious symbol of hate and intolerance made her working conditions impossible.
Kevin Williams himself was fired by the City’s Human Rights Commission for investigating a hangman’s noose at the San Francisco airport that signaled the lockout not only of San Francisco BayView publisher Willie Ratcliff’s company, Liberty Builders, but also of all Blacks from City construction sites.
Anita Labossiere, who has been tormented and harassed for the whistle blowing BayView article she wrote over two years ago, Working for the City is a living hell, is now in the process of being terminated on trumped up charges. As many as 30 other Black workers, especially those in professional and management positions, have faced similar attacks, including nooses. Nearly all have been terminated or forced out. No investigative report has been released to the public about these incidents. The City considers the nooses to be “just pranks,” not hate crimes.
The promise of jobs that residents exacted from the City in the ’70s to mitigate the sewage treatment plant’s harmful effects before allowing it to be built has turned into terrorist threats against employees. The PUC no longer hires or trains Bayview Hunters Point residents to work at the plant.
To add insult to injury, the city is now threatening Anita with a kangaroo court to illegally fire her. Her doctor has informed the city that these threats have compounded the stress Anita is under, but the City ignores both her doctor and her health in its headlong rush to fire her.
Another PUC employee, Phyllis Porter, a union steward, filed a federal EEOC case for sexual harassment, racism and stalking against a PUC manager on Jan. 3, 2005. Now, Phyllis writes, she has been “denied her day in court” and her rights to present a defense by a City judge in collaboration with city attorneys. “In an act of racism and retaliation using trumped up charges,” she explains, the PUC ordered her into court and issued a three-year restraining order against her to stop her from sexually harassing and stalking her supervisor while she was on disability leave due to two broken hips! She has now been illegally terminated and will have to fight for her job back once she is physically able to return to work. More Black PUC workers are calling the Bay View with similar stories.
On Friday, Jan. 13, to commemorate Martin Luther King’s birthday, Anita, Phyllis and other City workers formed a picket line and held a “Speak-out to End Racism, Discrimination and Corruption at City Hall.”
Picketing with them were Black, Latino and Asian men and women laborers from the Department of Public Works. Although they are members of LIUNA Local 261 and had many years of service, they were laid off by the City and replaced with workers at $11 an hour.
Their supervisor, DPW Director Mohammed Nuru, who is directly responsible for the firings and who was previously investigated for illegally ordering workers for a nonprofit to campaign for Gavin Newsom in the last mayoral election, still has his job.
Mayor Newsom and Nuru signed an agreement with LIUNA to hire new workers under a new classification doing much the same work as the laid off workers but at 50 percent less pay. Newsom also authorized the City to pay the replacement workers’ union initiations and dues – a clear ethics violation that was brought to his personal attention by the laid off workers in March and December of 2005. Newsom’s administration has not put them back to work even though the Board of Supervisors passed a supplemental appropriation of $1 million to rectify this situation. The workers are still being retaliated against.
Economic and environmental discrimination is getting worse, not better, in San Francisco. City workers and residents are being pushed out and denied
their rights by the courts, the mayor, the police, the district attorney, the city attorney and city managers. The whole governmental machine, run by the Democratic Party, is responsible for the institutionalization of racism by the City and County of San Francisco.
These workers have directly been denied their rights by the courts, the mayor’s office, the police, the district attorney, the city attorney, and the city managers. The whole governmental machine of the city, run by the Democratic Party, is responsible for the Institutionalization of Racism by the City and County of San Francisco.
A proliferation of pollutants, toxins and other dangerous radiological and biological chemical agents saturate the land, air and water that Bay View Hunters Point families are attempting to survive in with their children. Decades of benign neglect have resulted in unparalleled devastation to the health and well-being of residents. This is a fact that is now a matter of record.
Yet nothing of any substance has been done to reverse the current trend—the incalculable number of men, women and children who face imminent death from a plethora of serious respiratory ailments. Nor does any public agency seem to be making much effort to reverse the staggering and disproportionate number of Black women of the community who find themselves courageously battling breast cancer, directly tied to the pollutants found in Bay View Hunter’s Point (BVHP) in San Francisco.
These women are our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and nieces. They are the mothers and caregivers of our children—arguably the most valuable asset for the future we have—and deserve to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect.
While I could focus attention on many subjects that illustrate the problems related to the swath of devastation and destruction visited upon the quality of life these unacceptable health conditions impose upon thousands of BVHP residents, I will direct my remarks about just one, to illustrate how pollution and prejudice work together as weapons of mass destruction.
In the early 1970s, the Southeast Community Facility was built as a mitigation measure in exchange for community support to the city’s plan to build the Southeast Water Pollution Control Plant—commonly called the sewage treatment plant. Community leaders urged the city 35 years ago to treat San Francisco’s human effluent in other locations in the city and not just in BVHP.
To allay community concern, officials guaranteed to the community that a “cross-town tunnel” leading to the ocean beach at the Great Highway would be built. A multi-million dollar bond measure was passed by the voters to assure the funding necessary to complete the mammoth construction project.
However, inexplicably, the cross-town tunnel was never built. For decades, one city administration after another did not heed vociferous protests from community leaders such as the late Harold Madison, the late Ethel Garlington and others who relentlessly cried out to the city to live up to and keep the promises made to 70,000 community residents.
Those leaders were correct in foreseeing the consequences that would eventually befall the community for acquiescing to government-sanctioned tyranny disguised as development. Like an invisible raging torrent, over 80 percent of the effluent from the entire city flows directly into BVHP for treatment and is then pumped into the Bay. More sewage comes from Colma, Daly City and Brisbane.
As for the promise made by government officials that community leaders witnessed, they all died waiting for it to be fulfilled. The promise of jobs and training directed primarily to African American residents from BVHP was also broken.
Today, the Southeast Water Pollution Control Plant on Phelps Street is polluted not just by the choking odor of human waste, especially when the digesters overflow on rainy days, but by the overflow of inhumane prejudice toward Black people in their own community demonstrated by the hangman’s noose placed in the desk drawer of Anita Labossiere, a 23-year employee and the only Black woman senior chemist working for the San Francisco Water Pollution Control Bureau.
The hangman’s noose and the stress associated with such an odious symbol of hate and intolerance made her working conditions impossible for several weeks. When she attempted to return to work, she was told that she needed to obtain a doctor’s note. Labossiere did so.
Her private doctor cleared her to return to work. However, she was then told that she would be required to see a city doctor. Moreover, the city took the unusual step of contacting and attempting to change the mind of her private doctor.
She had to wait two more months to see the city doctor. Finally, after a 10-minute visit and no more than a visual examination, the city doctor determined that she was not fit to return to work.
The city then required a third opinion from yet another doctor to further delay her return to work. A few weeks ago, upon the advice of her attorney, she simply went to work, accompanied by Roland Sheppard, a well-known local labor leader.
Many of her co-workers were pleased to see her return and exchanged warm greetings with Anita. However, soon after Sheppard left, three managers of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission escorted Labossiere out of the building in plain view of the other employees. One superior warned her that if she returned she would be terminated for insubordination.
Carmi Johnson, who was also confronted with a hangman’s noose, and Leticia Brown are two other Black women on the staff who have suffered the maltreatment of prejudice and segregation in the workplace by Public Utilitities Commission (PUC) brass.
Longtime resident Espanola Jackson asked nearly a year ago for an accounting from the PUC of revenue streams generated from payments to the city from other counties. To date, she has not received a single report.
Jackson too heard the commitments made to the community years ago. The jobs created by the construction and operation of the sewage treatment plant were to benefit community residents, the people most affected by the plant.
Similarly, the promises of a program to train residents in horticulture, culinary arts and pollution control appear to have no more value than an old Indian treaty. Not one resident works in the horticulture annex at the Southeast plant.
Based upon the testimony of at least three Black employees, the PUC management operates the Southeast pollution plant in much the same manner as a Southern plantation. It permits and condones without comment, hangman’s nooses, the flagrant abuse and humiliation of a Black woman supervisor—in one instance a white male subordinate employee was allowed to call her a fuk**g Black bitch. No discipline followed against the insubordinate man. In another instance, Senior Chemist Anita Labossiere was thrown out of her office for reporting the maltreatment of Black women and herself at the Southeast plant, which ironically is located in a predominately Black community.
The repressive treatment by PUC management toward Black women has, however, awakened a sleeping giant and has produced a force unifying Blacks, organized labor, and progressive residents who abhor legally sanctioned corruption manifested by privatization of city jobs and favoritism and cronyism in contract awards.
The agenda will henceforth be to challenge pollution and prejudice, until we succeed in exposing these twin weapons of mass destruction to the extent that they impede the inalienable constitutional guarantees common to us all, of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
San Francisco – On Dec. 1, Anita Labossiere, along with this reporter, expressed some of our concerns to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission that overt racism —replete with hanging nooses — continues to raise its ugly head in the city’s wastewater, or sewage treatment, plants.
Placing a noose where a Black worker will find it is becoming an increasingly common form of racist terrorism in workplaces around the country. The nooses are intended as a reminder of the thousands of Blacks
lynched by Whites just a few decades ago. Stationary engineer Carmi Johnson,who found a noose and other fellow workers, who found nooses in their desks, are victims of noose terrorism at the PUC’s wastewater plants.
Anita told the PUC, ‘I have been working for the San Francisco Water Pollution Control Bureau for over 23 years as the only African American supervising chemist. In the City and County of San Francisco, there
is a well-organized plan by the managers to harass any minorities, minority supervisors and employees who support Black workers.
‘After the article I wrote, published in the Bay View newspaper last Aug. 20, ‘Working for the City is a living hell: Dealing with racism in the wastewater plants,’ I have been kept away from work by the managers at PUC. They are using every legal and illegal trick to keep me from returning to work from my personal leave,’ Anita testified, adding, ‘I should never have to work in this living HELL! You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
‘The following lyrics from the song ‘Strange Fruit’ explain my feelings. I feel like I am a strange fruit swingin’ in the Southern breeze:
Southern trees bear a strange fruit/ Blood on the leaves and blood at the root/ Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze/ Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees/ Pastoral scene of the gallant South. …
“PUC Personnel has refused to allow me to return to work. I was on a leave of absence brought on by stress.”
There are many Black employees throughout the City who are going through what I am going through. My case is very typical of how Mayor Willie Brown has ignored all of the Black employees’ concerns, even allowing them to be fired on trumped up charges. We have not gotten any help from Mayor Brown.’
Anita concluded with a call to action: ‘The PUC needs to conduct an immediate and open investigation and hearing about this racism in the water and wastewater plants.’
We were both well received by the PUC, and they agreed that this is an important matter. They stated, for the record, that they will investigate this intolerable situation within the wastewater plants.
But the truth of the matter is that the PUC’s department managers have implemented a rule known as Sec. 120.22 Compulsory Sick Leave in order to keep Anita from going back to work.
On Dec. 15, she was forcibly removed from the job under this city rule, even though she had been accepted back to work earlier in the day. An absent, so far unnamed, supervisor evoked rule 120.22.1. That section of the city rules states:
An appointing officer or designee who has reason to believe that an employee is not medically or physically competent to perform assigned duties, and if allowed to continue in employment or return from leave may represent a risk to coworkers, the public and the employee, may require the employee to present a medical report from a physician designated by the Human Resources Director certifying the employee’s medical or physical competency to perform the required duties.
In fact, this rule was put in operation after Anita wrote her article for this newspaper on racism in the wastewater plants and was already on stress leave due to the racist environment that is allowed to exist and fester at the plant.
The way the rule is being interpreted in Anita’s case, the ‘appointing officer or designee’ has the right to discriminate against any employee. Every employeewho gets injured on the job, under this interpretation, could be prevented from returning to work.
In this case, it is simply another type of noose that is left dangling before every city worker — especially those, like Anita, who have ‘blown the whistle’ on racism. PUC managers even dare to implement this policy in the heart of the largest remaining Black neighborhood in San Francisco!
The Southeast sewage treatment plant would never have been built in Bay View Hunters Point if African Americans — both skilled professionals like Anita and blue collar workers — had not been promised jobs and equal opportunity to rise through the ranks.
The Black community, in one of its strongest demonstrations of unity in San Francisco history, stopped construction of the plant, protesting that the neighborhood was already being poisoned by the PG&E power plant and other pollution generators and that race discrimination pervaded city employment.
Only when the city promised to minimize pollution and hire residents was construction allowed to proceed. Despite repeated protests over the years, the city has made little effort to fulfill either promise.
Anita is a strong person and, so far, she is standing up to and enduring the attacks against her. If the Black community stands up with her, she will win and all of San Francisco will gain.
On Monday, Dec. 29, at 4:30 p.m., a picket line and rally will be held on the steps of City Hall to address this issue. All are welcome to come and raise their voices.
We must remain ever vigilant so that a proper investigation is carried out and that the PUC does not just ‘go through the motions’ of an investigation and that racism in city government is rooted out and punished.
December 24, 2003 Early next month San Francisco Superior Court Judge James Warren will hear arguments in the case formerly known as John Doe v. John Doe.
The case was filed in August 2002, but all details about this unusual legal skirmish were kept secret for more than six months, shrouded by the California False Claims Act, the state’s whistle-blower statute.
The law allows private citizens to file suit against government officials for wrongdoing — typically embezzling or taking bribes — and keeps such proceedings confidential, at least initially. The idea behind all this secrecy is to protect the whistle-blower from reprisals.
The wraps came off Doe v. Doe in March 2003, when a court order sealing the case expired, revealing a man named Kevin Williams as the initiator of the lawsuit ‹ and adding a new, previously unreported wrinkle in a long-simmering controversy.
In his suit Williams accuses San Francisco International Airport director John Martin and five other city employees of allowing three corporations, including construction giant Tutor-Saliba Corp., to defraud taxpayers during the course of the $2.9 billion expansion of the international terminal. Williams has firsthand knowledge of the airport’s byzantine contracting process because he was a city employee paid to oversee a key aspect of the epic-scale construction job from 1995 to 2000.
He’s not the only person who says Tutor-Saliba vacuumed cash out of public coffers. Three months after Williams filed suit, San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera brought his own, remarkably similar lawsuit charging Tutor-Saliba with conspiring to rip off $30 million in city public funds.
There’s a key difference between the two cases, however: In Herrera’s version of reality, the city had no clue about Tutor-Saliba’s nefarious activities. Williams, on the other hand, says specific city staffers are partially responsible for the purported scam bonanza.
The distinction is more than semantic. If Williams is right, then perhaps those city employees should have to answer for their actions. And if city officials were aware of what was going on, Herrera will have a harder time arguing that the city was defrauded.
Management at the airport, says attorney John Scott, one of Williams’s lawyers, allowed the city to be scammed, either through “negligence or collusion (with Tutor-Saliba).”
The City Attorney’s Office, Scott says, “is circlingthe wagons to protect these people instead of investigating them.” Tutor-Saliba has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing. In a Bay Guardian interview last year, president Ron Tutor described the allegations as “too absurd even to comment on.”
Herrera’s suit is a declaration of war against the firm, one of the largest contractors specializing in public works jobs in the country. The City Attorney’s Office is seeking $30 million, plus punitive damages, and a court order barring the company from working on any city-funded San Francisco public works jobs in the future.
According to Herrera’s 56-page legal complaint, the Los Angeles County-based firm, which has ties to outgoing mayor Willie Brown and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, submitted “false and inflated pay applications to Airport,” cooked its books “to hide its grossly inflated and fraudulent profits,” and ran roughshod over the city’s affirmative action system, which sets aside public works contracts for minority- and women-owned businesses.
In court documents, Herrera says Tutor-Saliba asked for and received innumerable contract modifications that boosted its payment from $620 million to an astronomical $980 million. Many of those changes, the city attorney claims, were designed to improperly enlarge the company’s profits.
Herrera’s wide-ranging attack employs a variety of legal weapons, including the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a statute designed to take down organized crime outfits. But Herrera hasn’t gone after any airport staffers or other city employees who OKed the dubious contracts. “If there were any legitimate charges against these people, we would have pursued it and investigated it,” city attorney spokesperson Matt Dorsey says. “Kevin Williams is not a whistle-blower and has not made any meaningful contribution to any investigation or litigation pursued by this office.”
Williams lives in a different world. He says if people had only listened to him back in 1999, Tutor-Saliba would never have bilked the city.
“There were hundreds of millions in contracts approved over my objections,” says Williams, who scrutinized the company’s dealings with the airport from the late 1990s until 2000 for the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.
His work with the HRC took him to the airport, where he headed an affirmative action program, ensuring that a chunk of the multibillion-dollar expansion project at SFO went to minority- and women-owned businesses.
He says airport director Martin and deputy directors Tom Kardos, Earnie Eavis, and Jackson Wong are partially to blame for the Tutor-Saliba mess. He also lays blame on HRC staffer Zula Jones and former HRC director Marivic Bamba. All have denied the allegations in court documents.
You may remember Williams from the newspapers a few years back. He’s the guy at the HRC who captured headlines with a string of bombshell allegations about corruption and cronyism in the administration of Mayor Willie Brown (see “SFO Cover-up,” 8/1/01).
His testimony led to criminal indictments against the HRC’s Jones — later dropped in part because the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided her office without a warrant — and prompted Scott Co. of California to plead guilty to federal wire fraud charges.
While working at the airport, Williams became well acquainted with Tutor-Saliba. In 1999, Williams began telling his superiors, both publicly and privately, that white-owned corporations including Tutor-Saliba were scamming the system by using bogus “front” companies to score contracts set aside for minority- and womenowned companies.
In internal city memos obtained by the Bay Guardian, Williams claimed the firm scored contracts by listing two different black-owned construction companies as subcontractors but barred those companies from actually doing any work.
In December 1999, Williams implored Controller Ed Harrington to stop paying Tutor-Saliba until the company started playing by the rules; Harrington didn’t take that step.
Williams says officials at a variety of agencies blew him off. “I reported these things to my bosses, to the Airport Commission, the Human Rights Commission,” Williams recalls. “I didn’t get any feedback.”
Throughout 1999 he showed up at Airport Commission meetings to blast the body for giving contracts to Tutor-Saliba. In court documents Williams claims the commission, which is supposed to oversee the publicly owned airport, circumvented affirmative action requirements by approving $650 million in contracts and contract modifications without any review from the HRC.
“He was pointing out fraud, and the city continuously ignored him,” says Eric Safire, another lawyer representing Williams. “They knew those companies were fronts. And if they didn’t, all they had to do was read one of Kevin’s memos.”
SFO refused to comment on the allegations. “We don’t comment on pending litigation,” spokesperson Michael McCarron says.
Two lawsuits. Two versions of reality. One big mess. The intertwined suits, to lift a line from famed muckraker Jonathan Kwitny, form a complex double helix of politics and law enforcement. But at the core is a simple question: who’s responsible?
These days the city seems more interested in going after Williams than in going after the people who may have played a role in the contracting quagmire at the airport.
In 2000, after testifying before a federal grand jury against Jones, his boss at the HRC, Williams was demoted and stripped of his role as a contract monitor. He’s since been hit with termination proceedings — which he’s fighting in court.
The Human Rights Commission The Home of Environmental Racism Commission Executive Director Virginia Harmon is subjecting San Francisco Human Rights Compliance Officer Kevin Williams, an 18-year veteran African American anti-discrimination investigator to segregated working conditions. Join us to question the Commission why the City is tolerating segregation by a city department.
Mr. Williams has been a constant victim of retaliation since he testified before a federal grand jury in a corruption probe in 1999, which led to the indictment of his supervisor Zula Jones on April 28, 2000; He has received several anonymous death threats, which were placed in his employee mailbox at the 25 Van Ness main office location of the Human Rights Commission;
Mr. Williams has been subjected to prolonged segregated working conditions, and not permitted to work on any job assignments with other managers, commissioners, or compliance staff of the Human Rights Commission. He is forced to work alone on his work assignments in order to justify false charges alleging his failure to perform in a orchestrated scheme designed to manufacture the count less bogus disciplinary actions taken against him;
Racist and avowed segregationist Harmon has ordered him placed under surveillance at his office and home, his computer seized, and computer files confiscated, bypassing his government employee confidential password. From the files seized it was determined by her that Williams is guilty of doing personal work on City time and must be fired.
He has recently learned that he has been the subject of a secret investigation into his political activities involving the mayor’s race since February 9, 2003. She also has ordered that any outgoing mail from Williams be immediately opened and inspected. Mr. Williams was never told that he was ever the subject of an investigation for termination of his employment for nine consecutive months, until Harmon served him with termination papers on August 15, 2003.
6/13/04 In The June 9th Issue of the San Francisco BayView, Anita Labossiere and I wrote the article “Southeast sewage plant: pollution and prejudice work together as weapons of mass destruction.” In that article we invited all to “protest racism against Black workers at the PUC Tuesday, 1:30 pm, Room 400 City Hall.”
As you may be aware, from reading the Bay View, at the regular Meeting of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission that was held in December, promises were made to begin an investigation of racism at the water treatment plants.
In the June 9th article, we explained that these promises were never kept. At the regular meeting of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission that was held on June 8, 2004, things went a little bit differently than at past meetings of the PUC. At these previous meetings it was only Anita and myself addressing the problems of racism at the Southeast Water Treatment Plant (SWTP) that were directed towards her and the Bay View Hunters Point (BVHP) community. We had to use the agenda point: “public comment” to address these points.
At the 6/8 meeting, in addition to Anita and myself, many of the speakers, who were representative of the Bay View Hunters Point Communities addressed this issue. Kevin Wiliams, Espanola Jackson, Marie Harrison, Francisco Da Costa, Charlie Walker and others all explained the long history of racism involving the PUC, the Southeast Water Treatment Plant, and the problems that they have had with the staff of the Southeast Water Treatment Plant in general and Anita’s case in specific. They also talked about how these problems need a thorough investigation and that the Justice Department may have to be called.
As a result of this demonstration from at united community, two commissioners, Robert J. Costello and Ryan L. Brooks, along with the Acting Manager of the PUC, were assigned to begin an investigation of the problems and issues of racism within the PUC and of the SWTP and its staff. These commissioners along with the Acting Manager are to report their findings at every PUC Board Meeting for the foreseeable future, under a special agenda point. (From now on we will not be relegated to the “public comment” point on the agenda.)
That was Tuesday. On Thursday, Anita, her daughter,Ayanna, Lonnie Butler, and I attended a ‘Skelly HearingÇ, which was called by the PUC staff to suspend Anita from work for 30 days. At this hearing,
Anita made a motion that it was in the staff’s best interests that the Skelly hearing be postponed, due to the fact that the Public Utilities Commission was conducting an investigation.
(During the course of helping to represent Anita Labossiere at this hearing, I was informed and surprised that Niermela Arsem, one of the people against whom Anita has filed an EEOC complaint, was actually a Vice-President of one of Professional & Technical Engineers (IFPTE) Local 21 chapters and a “sister” in the union!
I then wrote a letter to Local 21’s ‘executive director,” David Novogrodsky stating: “I think that I now understand why the union has been so conspicuously absent from all demonstrations and PUC meetings when this case was discussed, and why you told me, when you walked through a picket line in support of Anita’s case, that ‘the union has no problem with work rule 120.’ It is known as Sec. 120.22 Compulsory Sick Leave, which an absent, so far unnamed, supervisor had evoked against Sister Anita.
The way the rule is being interpreted in Sister Anita’s case, the appointing officer or designee has the right to ‘discriminate against any employee’. It may be a ‘rule,’ but to me it is a rule that is in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.”)
The PUC staff did not postpone the hearing. We then recessed the meeting to notify the the PUC upstairs of Anita’s statement to the hearing: “I have no other choice, but to contact the two commissioners, (Costello and Brooks) along with the Acting Manager, and the President of the Commission, Dennis Normandy, to inform them of your decision not to postpone. And I may have to possibly call in the Department of Justice.”
When the hearing reconvened, Tamara Lowery Jones, Senior Personal Analyst, for the PUC then read the PUC staff’s charges against Anita. (I was astounded, that Tamara Jones, speaking for the PUC, could not even reply to the question “Does an employee have a right to file a complaint to the EEOC?” (Rights under Title VII law are supposed to be posted at every job site.])
Anita then gave the following statement to the Skelly “Hearing”:
Dear sirs and/or madams:
I am enclosing several documents in writing that present my rebuttals to the charges before me. I consider this hearing and the proposed 30 day suspension to be a further violation of my civil rights, a violation of Title VII of the civil rights act, an illegal retaliation for exercising my rights, an illegal retaliation in violation of my “whistle blower” rights, and a further violation of my rights to a safe and nonracial work environment. Or is it the opinion of my “superiors” that I do not have a right to complain to the EEOC? Or to the take necessary steps to prepare my complaint for the EEOC?
In addition, I wish to to state for the record that, since Phil Caskey was made director, my assignments/workload have been almost completely diminished, even though I have won several awards for my work during my 24 years of service to the city. This is/was a further violation of my rights to equal treatment in the workplace and an equal work environment. I have a right to carry my share of the load!
I can only assume that the management has the intent to make me redundant, so that they can easily get rid of me. And that these “kangaroo” hearings are just part of this process.
Given the uncompromising stance of the PUC staff, we then adjourned the meeting. The ball is now in the court of the PUC. What they do is dependent on how the community supports Anita and supports itself. It the BVHP community stays united on this issue and keeps applying its pressure, then Anita will win her case and in addition the promises for jobs and a cleaner environment made in the past to BVHP will finally be made true.
The Silence of the Lambs: An Open Letter to the San Francisco Building Trades Council Re: Asbestos Removal Downtown and Hunters Point
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. — Martin Luther King Jr.
Michael Theriault Secretary-Treasurer San Francisco Building Trades Council 150 Executive Park, Suite 4700 San Francisco, CA 94134-3309 Phone: (415) 467-3330 F a x : 4 6 7 – 3 0 1 8 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Send by Email and Fax
Re: Asbestos Removal Downtown and Hunters Point
Dear Brother Theriault and Brothers and Sisters of the Building Trades Council’,
July 19, 2007At the time that I was a San Francisco Painters Union Local # 4, Business Representative (1994-1997), a large, hardly visible construction process was going on. Every floor of the high priced hotels and the high priced office buildings were being remodeled — they were undergoing asbestos removal. Because of this work, that went on for several years, we became knowledgeable of the dangers of asbestos.
As officers of the Building Trades, we all attended asbestos safety classes based upon the OSHA scientific documents about asbestos. We learned that there were no safe levels of asbestos to which workers could be exposed — that we could not rely upon OSHA regulations, for they were always a compromise between Business and Science.
We were taught to use the Precautionary Principle, and to do our best to prevent asbestos exposures to our membership and police those jobs for safety. Safety First! was our motto.
Based upon the successful lawsuits on asbestos exposure and fearing litigation, the owners of the downtown businesses, used the Precautionary Principle, when it came to their pocketbooks!
All of the asbestos, that was removed was contained and prevented from leaking into the rest of that building or the environment in general. The men had special work clothes and Hepa masks and hoods to prevent any personal asbestos exposure.
They also has a ‘clean room’ to change from their work clothes, shower, and dress so that asbestos would not get into the environment and homes.
Which brings me to the Lennar Corporation and their work performance at Hunters Point. Workers, the Hunters Point Community, and the San Francisco Community have been exposed to asbestos due to excavation of serpentine rock. This exposure has been continuous and ongoing for over a year.
The difference between this asbestos removal and the removal downtown is Black and White — is very clear. Yet the silence of the San Francisco Building Trades Council is deafening! Is it because the official consider themselves to be in “partnership” with Lennar? And is this “partnership” more important than the health and safety of the workers on the job and in the community that were/are exposed to asbestos? I think not!
When I first became a union official, the Painters Union had formed a partnership with the Public Housing Community the Public Housing. Under our leadership, a Building Trades project agreement was signed by entire Building Trades Council, in partnership with the community, and the San Francisco Housing Authority.
The work was performed union and the residents of public housing went to work and joined the union. In three years, due to this partnership and community support, we doubled the Painters Local 4 working membership and brought many people from the community into the union in the process.
We had gained the political strength to recapture the prevailing wage work that had been previous lost. (The entire civic center and city hall renovations, that were scheduled to be done by nonunion painters wound up being done union due to our joint efforts with community.)
The 1934 San Francisco General Strike was what made San Francisco a union town. It was won because those who were attempting to organize the ILWU won the support of the majority of those that made up the San Francisco Working Class and poor communities.
Rather than being in “partnership” with the employers (In bed with the boss) we should return to what made us strong in our past. We should stand up for all workers and the poor and in the interests of all workers and the poor. We should be in partnership with our fellow workers and all those who are being oppressed in the rush for profits.
Every Labor Day, the Labor Officials sing the old labor song “Solidarity Forever” at the annual Labor Day Picnic. Instead of playing “lip service’ to working class solidarity, once a year, we should practice genuine Solidarity once again and established Solidarity (a “Partnership”) amongst all workers, the oppressed minorities, and the poor.
We can begin by shutting down the asbestos excavation job at Hunters Point, until such a time that their are no asbestos exposures on the job to the workers and the surrounding community! And it is safe for all!
Fraternally yours, Roland Sheppard Retired Business Representative Painters Local # 4 (2004)