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Firefighters Union in Philly Is Feeling the Heat

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By Minara El-Rahman on November 13, 2009 10:02 AM

An organization of African American firefighters have filed a federal lawsuit against their union for being abusive and harassing them.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the firefighters allege that leaders of the firefighters union were predominantly white and were hell bent on eliminating many practices that were in place to ensure that black firefighters were hired in the first place. In fact, the union had submitted a proposal with the city back in December that requested that hiring quotas be eradicated.

The black firefighters are naturally upset that their membership dues are being put towards union activites not dedicated to their own advancement. Mr. Kenneth Green of the Club Valiants (President of the African American firefighter group) told The Philadelphia Inquirer: "They're using my union dues to do it. It's a slap in the face."

The lawsuit also details how union meetings have been so divided that the African American firefighters don't bother attending them anymore. It said, "African Americans have no voice in the union."

This brings up the question: How far does racial discrimination law go?

Generally, both state and federal laws prohibit private employers, labor unions, and government agencies from the following:

  • Denying an applicant a job on the basis of race or color
  • Denying promotions, transfers, or assignments on the basis of race or color
  • Penalizing workers with reduced privileges, reduced employment opportunities, and reduced compensation on the basis of race or color
  • Firing a worker on the basis of race or color

As you can tell, the law covers labor union activities. There is also a decree in Philadelphia that goes back to a 1984 federal consent decree that mandated the hiring of more black firefighters as well as the replacement of an entrance exam that was considered to discriminate against black applicants.

The actions of the firefighters union can be construed to go against this. In fact, there are many white firefighters who want to see this decree gone. In fact, the city has paid out $275,000 in settlement claims to five white lieutenants who claim that they were refused promotions because the exams were rigged to favor minorities.

If you are interested in learning more about racial discrimination, please visit our Related Resources section.

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