PHILADELPHIA (CN) - The former president of Philadelphia's black firefighters' union claims the city firefighters' union retaliated for his objecting to its practice of allowing retired members to vote in union elections, which "makes it difficult if not impossible for an African American to win a leadership position in the union" and "perpetuates the cycle of racial injustice."
Kenneth Greene says white members of the city firefighters' union create a "racially offensive and hostile work environment", which insults and alienates African-American members.
Greene sued The Philadelphia Fire Fighters' Union, Local 22, International Association of Firefighters, in Federal Court.
Greene, a fire lieutenant in the Philadelphia Fire Department and a member of Local 22, was president of Club Valiants, the city's chapter of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters, from 2008 to 2010.
While serving as an official of the Club, Greene advocated for the rights of African-American Philadelphia firefighters. According to the complaint, Greene participated in lawsuits against Philadelphia and Local 22 over the now-defunct website domelights.com and the Local 22 website, which posted racially offensive material.
Greene also was involved in the union's negotiations with the city over the fire department's collective bargaining agreement, and criticized Local 22 for "negotiating in derogation of the rights of African American fire fighters," and for advocating the end of a consent decree that required remedial hiring of African-American firefighters, according to the complaint.
Greene claims the local union fosters a "racially hostile and offensive environment" which makes black members feel unwelcome.
He says its white members "regularly took part in and encouraged racially hostile conduct on the union Internet site," which was meant to "insult, deter and alienate African American firefighters from the union."
Greene says: "Some of the running abusive commentary on the official Local 22 union website, infested with Ebonics, and/or domelights.com, included commentary concerning African-American fire fighters' alleged inability to understand or comprehend how to use flashlights and safety equipment; racial harassment claiming laziness and stupidity of African American fire fighters (always sleeping in the back of the fire truck); and, repeated statements that African American firefighters are promoted even though they are not qualified for the promotions." (Parentheses in complaint.)
The complaint adds: "In addition to allowing and encouraging a hostile union Internet website, the platform of Local 22 and CAFFA [the Caucasian Fire Fighters Association] of eliminating the hard-won equality, civil rights and advancement for African-American fire fighters through a two hundred-year struggle, as set forth below, was, upon information and belief, officially adopted by Local 22, and Local 22 took official union actions to the derogation of the rights of African-American members of Local 22, including but not limited to demanding that the rights of African-American firefighters won under the aforesaid consent decree be taken from them as part of collective bargaining negotiations with the city.
"The aforesaid discriminatory actions have created a racially offensive and hostile work environment for plaintiff. ... Plaintiff was also subjected to racially harassing and threatening behavior at the union hall. ...
"For instance, contrary to the Local 22 Constitution, most of these official union meetings are held after many of the attending participants have become drunk from alcohol. During these sessions, African-American fire fighters have experienced drunken tirades against themselves and their civil rights.
"During one meeting, a current Caucasian fire department chief, then a fire department captain, who is a white Local 22 member, verbally accosted plaintiff in a racially derogatory manner, while drunk and while the majority of the attendees, most if not all of whom were white, were drunk.
"At this time, while drunk, during the order of the meeting, the chief was speaking out against the consent decree and discussing how it could be terminated by Local 22. When plaintiff Lieutenant Greene challenged this concept as a violation of African-American union members' rights, the chief, in a drunken state, chided plaintiff and told him, in public, on the floor of the union hall, that there are more blacks in the Philadelphia Sanitation Department and there is no consent decree there, and suggested that African-American firefighters might do better to move to that department and pick up Philadelphia's trash instead of fighting its fires.
"When plaintiff advised the chief that he was not there to discuss the Sanitation Department, another white Local 22 member stood up, cursed at plaintiff, and stated that he needed to be 'thrown the f*ck out of the meeting.' At this point, two other white fire department chiefs and Local 22 members concurred with the drunken outburst, and stated that plaintiff should be thrown out of the meeting. There were only a few African-American union members in attendance that night. As a result of the hostile and abusive treatment that night, plaintiff felt extremely threatened." (Spelling of expletive as in complaint.)
Greene says the union retaliated against him for his protected civil rights activities, such as opposing discriminatory practices that dilute African-American members' voting power.
"In addition, upon information and belief, Local 22 has engaged in a racially discriminatory practice of allowing all retired members to vote in current union elections and matters requiring votes of the membership," the complaint states.
"Because of the historically disproportionate numbers of African-American union members, which were remedied, in part, by the consent decree, this practice of allowing retired members to vote in union elections has perpetuated the voting power of Caucasian members who are retired, and has had the effect of perpetuating a discriminatory and disproportionate impact that exists by virtue of the fact that for many years the hiring practices of the Philadelphia Fire Department (which determine the members of Local 22) were racially discriminatory.
"Upon information and belief, the practice of allowing the retired members to vote perpetuates the past historical discrimination, makes it difficult if not impossible for an African-American to win a leadership position in the union, and dilutes African-American votes, intentionally creating a disproportionate impact that should and must be ended." (Parentheses in complaint.)
Greene adds: "Due to the historical racial disparity that disproportionally affected African-American firefighters in the past, the practice of allowing retired firefighters the right to vote simply perpetuates the cycle of racial injustice."
Greene seeks compensatory and punitive damages for racial discrimination, and wants the union enjoined from discriminatory practices and from retaliating against him.
He is represented by Brian Mildenberg with Mildenberg and Stalbaum.