City Employee Brings Noose to Work: City Employees Decry Lack of Response
Thursday, October 25, 2007 7:19:00 PM
by Marian H. Jefferson
|Many people in recent days have come forward to share their experiences about racial harrasment in the workplace. If you have a story you would like to share please contact me at The Dallas Examiner; www.dallasexaminer.com or call 214-428-3446.
City Employee Brings Noose to Work; Workers say They Have Been Made to Endure Hostile Work Environment for Twenty Years.
MARIAN HUBBARD JEFFERSON is an Investigative Journalist with The Dallas Examiner
While many Americans today are still all too willing to convince themselves of the non-existence of racism, racial inequality and the ugly symbols that often accompany such social castigation; it nonetheless has not stopped this insidiously, insane racial drama from being played out over and over again in very public places all across our nation as in: Jena, Louisiana where hangman’s nooses were found dangling from a tree known to be a gathering place for Whites only; at the University of Columbus, where a noose was found hanging from the door of a noted professor and civil rights activist and now it has been reported to be a very disturbing part of the recent history of the South Side Wastewater Plant owned and operated by the City of Dallas.
One week ago today Andy Jones, Mechanic of 3 years with the city of Dallas, arrived to work with a hangman’s noose dangling from his rearview mirror. It is reported to have been hanging in his truck for weeks. But workers, untrusting of their supervisors to act on their behalf and confused about just how to handle the situation, called a work hotline to report what they had seen. The workers say weeks passed and no one came to talk to them about what they had witnessed or inquired about how it was affecting the work environment. Clement Bernard was stunned both with the audacity of Jones and with the fact that no one had been bold enough to confront this issue openly. He grabbed two other supervisors to witness the unbelievable display and went to comfort Faye Jackson who now visibly shaken had reported the noose to Bernard.
“I am not as old as some of my co-workers but I know enough of my history to know that when people hang a noose it means that’s what they’re gonna do to you if you don’t act right.”, said Jackson. “I am afraid. I keep thinking about him finding out that I turned him in and what he may do to me because of it…I have a seven year old and I’m a single mother. I have to keep showing up here day after day. There’s simply no one else to take care of me…I just want us all to get along and to be able to work in peace.”
Jones was subsequently asked to remove the noose but allowed to finish his shift that day without further discussion. But Jones became angry about being made to take the noose down, and so he returned to work the next day displaying not only a tattoo and bandanna depicting the rebel flag but an even bigger noose which he now hung from the ship of his truck parked on city property. At least one other employee, William Bumpus, is reported to have also been angry about Jones being made to take down the noose and vowed to make his own and hang it from the rearview mirror of the company truck, according to Bernard. He complained yet again and Jones was sent home on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation.
“If the supervisors would have addressed the issue head on we wouldn’t be here today but they didn’t see it the way we did. They minimized the situation with Mark Evers saying the noose didn’t have to mean what we thought it meant and it didn’t have to have anything to do with slavery or derogatory statements made about Blacks. The other supervisor, Sam Bastowas told us that he had no clue what the noose stood for.”
Bernard said he called the police and they took a report over the phone but that no one as of yet had been interviewed by DPD (four witness statements were taken.) Bernard said he became so enraged by the overwhelming insensitivity of “management” that he went home. “I thought I was going to have a heart attack…I have been down this road so many times and these people just don’t seem to get it...”
Bernard then gave the sorted history of not only being taunted by Jones with the bandanna and tattoo but also years of fighting against other overtly racist individuals, display of offensive symbols and oppressive work environment. According to Bernard, asking the city to ensure the environment was free of racial harassment was not automatic. Bernard said it always took a while for them to address the complaints while the work atmosphere continued to deteriorate. He then showed us boxes upon boxes where he had well documented his battles with the city over matters of racial harassment and discriminatory practices. The complaints date as far back as 1990 to include a complaint several years ago where he asked management to insist upon a boat used by the city, brought in for repair because it had holes in it, be painted.
Bernard said that the boat was indeed repaired, but now it had painted across the back in red, white and blue; SS Rednecks. He said in this instance he told management that he found it offensive and asked for the boat to be painted over. The people responsible for painting the insignia on the boat were Jones and his now supervisor promoted after Bernard logged his complaint. The original complaint was logged three years ago and according to Bernard, the signed was removed from the boat only this past Wednesday.
Person after person interviewed stated that they were disappointed in the way the plant managed the situation. Some report a very low moral and increasing difficulty in getting along in the face of rising tensions. When asked if the city conducted cultural diversity, conflict resolution or sensitivity trainings as a result of any of the incidents or as part of a routine training regiment, everyone we talked to (with some people having over 20 years with the city) said all their training had to do with how to do their jobs, safety and customer service. Workers say they have never had cultural diversity, conflict resolution or sensitivity training. Asked if they believed that this contributed to the hostile work environment, each agreed that the classes may have helped a long time ago but a lot of time has been lost and people have been hurt because workers have been made to just take it.
We spoke to Jody Puckett about the incident. Puckett said that the matter was being aggressively investigated. We told her that no one has been out to investigate the matter despite an anonymous tip being placed on the work hotline weeks ago. Puckett replied, “I don’t investigate anonymous claims…I don’t do smoking guns…an employee needs to file something,”
But according to Bernard, workers have seen for years now that no matter how much you complain about issues of racial harassment or other discriminatory practices that little gets done, “…they don’t trust the system because it fails almost every single time, said Bernard. When asked what workers are to do when they have no confidence in leadership to judiciously handle these kinds of concerns, Puckett became animated saying
“…what you have is people hiding behind their issues and not bringing them forward…tell them to call me”, she said in a raised voice.
When asked about her defensive position, Puckett replied that she was only so animated because she possessed a passion for her work and for the people that work for the city. She told us that she believed the city was doing all it needed to be doing on behalf of its workers in this instance and encouraged workers again to work up the chain of command to have their complaints heard. She said that she often struggled with issues that some employees have because it really isn’t about race but about the fact they don’t like their boss or for other reasons different from their actual complaint. She said she wasn’t so sure that the complaints were not relegated to only one individual. But workers both Black and White we spoke to said that the tensions go well beyond the incidents of the past few weeks and “managements consistent failure to realize this is why we’ve decided to talk to the newspapers…”
As to why the city had no cultural diversity or conflict resolution classes to help workers to better understand each other neither for workers or site supervisors, Puckett stated that classes were underway. She refused to respond directly about why the classes had not existed before now so we sought an answer with both the city manager and mayor of the city of Dallas who were each out of the city. The mayor of Dallas released the following statement in response to the allegations:
“The allegations are obviously disturbing, and let me be clear - that kind of activity is not something we find acceptable or condone.
But this is also a personnel matter, so I am not going to discuss this in any detail as the process is being worked through. The City Manager assures me that the city is aggressively investigating the allegations, and if sustained the employee will be disciplined accordingly.
Additionally, I am encouraged that the city had begun diversity training within Dallas Water Utilities several weeks ago. Dallas employs about 13,000 people and we want to make sure they all treat each other with dignity and respect. It is a diverse workforce, and all employees should be valued for who they are.”-
Mayor of Dallas
We did not hear from Ramon Miquez, Dallas’ City Manager, before the printing of this article but workers from Southside say they have recently been asked to complete non-disclosure statements about the recent incident and to allow internal processes to work. We did seek additionally to find out if those who came forward will be subject to any retaliation by the City of Dallas and to have the protocol explained to us for dealing with individuals accused of racial harassment but we were told that no further comment would be made on the issue by Mayor Leppert. In the meantime, South Side employees say they eagerly await a resolution to this matter and to see practices put into place to better deal with issues regarding racial and cultural division.
The Dallas Examiner will continue to follow this story to share with readers any changes and/or outcomes as a result of the stance of the city workers who came forward to share their story. In the mean time if anyone has any additional information they would like to share about their experiences please contact me at 214-732-3544.