In the United States, labor unions have long been heralded for promoting workers’ rights and fighting for fair wages. However, the story of New York City’s Local 28 Union of the Sheet Metal Workers proves that, even in unions that were founded to promote equality, there is hierarchy and widespread discrimination that persists even today.
Until 1964, when a judge ordered the union to repeal its “Caucasians only provision”, Local 28’s discriminatory practices towards minority members were even included in the union’s bylaws. Despite the order, the deep-seeded racism within the union was much more difficult to weed out and minority members suffered financially as a result.
While work was steady and plentiful for most white union members, black and Hispanic members often went days, weeks or even months without being offered a job. As white union members joined the ranks of the middle-class, purchased homes and appeared to live the American dream; black union members often sacrificed and struggled to make ends meet.
The discriminatory practices that dominated the union’s daily operations were no secret and, for years, Local 28 was the subject of lawsuits and contempt of court rulings for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Recently hundreds of the minority workers who were directly impacted due to these discriminatory practices began receiving back pay. The $12.7 million settlement will be paid to impacted workers over the course of the next five years.
Representatives for the union admit there have been problems with discrimination in the past. They also, however, contend that they are making changes to right those wrongs and to ensure that black and Hispanic members are financially compensated.
Source: The New York Times, “New York Sheet Metal Workers Case Highlights Persistence of Workplace Discrimination,” Rachel L. Swarns, Dec. 20, 2015