Local 798 of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada, AFL-CIO, faces a proposed class action lawsuit over alleged racial and sexual discrimination.
A proposed class action lawsuit alleges Local 798 of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada AFL-CIO has intentionally discriminated against Black members by failing and refusing to promote the workers from the position of helper to “higher and better-compensated” roles.
The plaintiff, a Black Ellenwood, Georgia resident and member of Local 798 since November 2005, alleges in the 13-page lawsuit that the union has had since its formation a “well-established practiceand policy of intentionally discriminating against minorities and women,” as well as a decades-long reliance on nepotism in recruitment.
“There are relatively no minorities or women who hold the position of journeyman in Defendant Local 798, and the number of minorities are extremely disparate in comparison to white males holding this position,” the complaint, filed in Oklahoma federal court, alleges. “Moreover, whites with less seniority than minorities and women, or even no seniority, can join Defendant Local 798 and promptly become Journeymen.”
The plaintiff alleges he experienced a hostile work environment while working as a welder helper on an assignment from May through August 2019. The lawsuit says the plaintiff was the target of racial slurs, among other forms of abuse, and saw no consequence for the white Local 798 members who he alleges hurled the offensive language his way.
“Indeed, there are never any consequences for white Union members who make racial slurs against [the plaintiff] in order to intimidate him from advancement and membership,” the complaint says.
According to the lawsuit, Tulsa-headquartered Local 798 had no Black or female members for the first 40 years of its existence and through the mid-1980s, with the union’s membership comprised exclusively of white men. Per the suit, Black and female members were barred from Local 798 across its 42-state jurisdiction.
From the 1970s through the 1980s, most new Local 798 members were male relatives of existing members, who were only permitted to recruit white male relatives who were cousins, brothers, sons, nephews, sons-in-law or uncles, the lawsuit says. According to the case, the union had since its formation in 1949 an “unwritten practice” that dictated if a business agent or welder foreman hired a female or Black individual for pipeline work, that agent or foreman would be terminated.
With this long-established runway, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued Local 798 in the mid-1980s over violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the case states. Ruling on the case, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma concluded that Local 798 had, since at least July 1965, engaged in sweeping, unlawfully discriminatory employment practices by excluding Black and female individuals from membership, according to the complaint. Moreover, the court concluded Local 798 had openly announced its exclusionary policy at membership meetings between 1976 and 1985 and had officers and officials who “had a practice of using racial and sexist slurs,” the suit says.
The lawsuit relays that the Oklahoma federal court also said Local 798’s “reputation for excluding blacks and women has had a chilling effect on applicants,” who were effectively deterred from trying to join the union.
The plaintiff alleges, however, that Local 798 did not change its “pattern and practice” of intentional discrimination in the wake of the Oklahoma federal court’s 1986 ruling. Instead, the union merely “changed the way it engaged in such discrimination,” the complaint charges.
In all, the plaintiff contests that minorities and women are relegated to “permanent second-class status” in Local 798, with their potential wages effectively hamstrung as a result.
“Because minorities and women are effectively barred from Journeyman positions, their lifetime earnings in this industry are hundreds of thousands of dollars less than white male Journeymen,” the case alleges, noting that the most highly regarded and best-compensated position in Local 798 is that of “journeyman,” whereas the role of “helper” is both less regarded and lower paid.
The lawsuit looks to represent a proposed class that includes all Local 798 members who are races other than white or Caucasian who were qualified for and sought a position or hours of a journeyman or other position above the rank of helper within the applicable statute of limitations period and who were denied the position.
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