Partial Settlement in Carpenters' Racial Discrimination Case

Categories: Breaking News
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Bob the Builder never had to call Bob the Lawyer...
Eight of the 28 plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against companies at a Bayview construction site for alleged discrimination and labor law violations -- including running segregated work crews, turning away black workers in favor of Latinos, and extorting wage kickbacks from the Latinos -- have settled with the companies and dropped out of the suit. The eight former plaintiffs are set to receive their checks Friday.  

The remaining 20 carpenters will push forward with a lawsuit in federal court against housing giant AIMCO and several of the subcontractors working on AIMCO's federally subsidized housing units on the hill overlooking the Hunter's Point Shipyard: Fortney and Weygandt, Inc.; IMR Contractor Corporation; Bay Building Services; and Bay Area Construction Framers.

The alleged practices at the construction site that seemed plucked right out of the Jim Crow days were detailed in a 2008 SF Weekly cover story "Building Racism." While the plaintiffs signed confidentiality agreements regarding the terms of the mediation last week, some of the 20 remaining plaintiffs expressed anger at the relatively paltry amount of money they were offered -- and that some of their fellow carpenters would accept it (Because of the confidentiality agreement, SF Weekly cannot reveal the exact dollar amount). 
"Eight people jumped off the wagon quick," said one of the plaintiffs who has remained in the suit, adding that all of the plaintiffs who chose to settle were African American -- though some African American plaintiffs remain. "They said they hadn't worked in a year. I haven't worked either, but it's the whole idea of staying together."

"They're trying to sell us out," said another plaintiff about the companies. "They're trying to conquer and divide...It was a blue light special...It was just intimidating."

The SF Weekly story on the case highlighted how Latinos were allegedly threatened and even physically attacked by their supervisors on and off the work site for complaining to the union about having to pay their superiors part of their wages. African Americans and Latinos were allegedly assigned to separate work crews, and the African Americans were repeatedly told they were too slow.  

Since the story ran, new details that would seem to corroborate the workers' accusations have emerged. According to court documents filed in federal court this year, an employee of the project's subcontractor, IMR, said he talked with both AIMCO and Fortney & Weygandt about whether IMR and another subcontractor should racially integrate the segregated work crews and hire more African American residents of the area.

According to the suit, the IMR employee said the decisions "were made by committee based on the notions that Latinos would not work with African Americans and that hiring more African-American resident workers on the project would cost too much money because they are not as productive as Latino (Mexican) workers." Asked to back up the difference in productivity to the other companies, the IMR employee said that he and a Bay Building Services employee had two teams of four men - one team all Latino, one all black - perform the same task and calculated that the African Americans were 40 percent as productive as their Latino counterparts, according to the suit.

"That doesn't happen everyday," said the carpenters' attorney, Bob Salinas, in reference to employers testing different races' productivity. "I would hope."

Furthermore, the suit alleges that an AIMCO representative serving as the project's director of construction told the subcontractors that she didn't care if they didn't hire African Americans. Also according to the suit, the project's vice-president of construction allegedly referred to African Americans as "niggers" and "monkeys" during meetings with the subcontractors, saying "if they were good workers, would they be living here?"

In subsequent court documents, AIMCO denies all the allegations, and argues the company cannot be held liable for the actions of the subcontractors.

While the carpenters are not happy about the folks who settled with the companies -- "I don't even want to talk to people who took the settlement," one plaintiff said -- Salinas claims"it doesn't affect the rights of the other plaintiffs."
 
"The people that are remaining in the suit are committed to making sure that the truth about how things happened out there comes to light," Salinas says.
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