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Riverside: Employees Say Racial Problems Persist

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"You only got the job because you are Black"

By Mary Shelton

At least 50 percent of Riverside's city employees would resign and accept a similar job elsewhere if the opportunity arose, according to a recent survey released by City Hall. .

Jerry Arline, a Public Works employee since 1983, did not complete the survey, because he was scheduled to meet with City Manager George Caravalho. That finding did not surprise him because of his own experiences with racism as a city employee for nearly 20 years, he said. "It seems they don't want to hire Blacks, let alone promote them to higher positions," he said, looking back. Years earlier, when he had raised these issues with his supervisor, he was told that he had only gotten the job because he was Black, an experience that stings to this day. The extremely hostile working environment which has plagued Public Works for years has also taken its toll on Arline and other Black employees who have worked there. Meetings between employees and city officials to discuss these issues as well as discrimination in hiring and promotional practices accomplished nothing, Arline said. Problems still exist despite claims otherwise during a recent joint meeting between the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee and the Human Resource Board. After EEO committee member Ellie Bennett informed Caravalho of the problems with Public Works, Human Resources Director Judith Griffith told him that those problems had occurred 13 years ago. Arline has said that racial harassment continues, as does the management's indifference to it, and he is not the only Black employee to have noticed it. In January 2001, two employees Robert Howe and George Stewart told Arline and a supervisor that a jig-a-boo had been drawn on a wall in the yard, accompanied by derogatory words. Stewart wrote in a memo, that even though numerous investigations had addressed issues concerning White employees, no employee was questioned and no action was taken regarding this incident.
"No one from Human Resources came out," Stewart wrote, "It was business as usual." The situation involving the hiring and promotion of African-Americans mirrors that of the environment where they work. And Arline said that he believes Human Resources plays a large role in allowing this to happen, because it seems more intent on sweeping complaints under the rug, than in investigating them. African-Americans are not offered the same training opportunities to prepare for advancement as White employees, and often supervisors give their '"favorite" employees test procedures and questions in advance, Arline said. Nepotism, pre-selection and other types of favoritism of certain employees remains a serious problem. a concern also raised in the city's survey by employees. During a meeting with Human Resources in 1995, he notified management of these problem. He was told that the department had no prior knowledge of these incidents but would look into the situation, Arline said. Yet the same problems continued. When Arline himself once received test questions in advance while applying for the position of Street Maintenance Supervisor in August 2001, he refused to open the envelope, because he said, he did not want to contribute to this "unfair process," as he believed all employees should enjoy equal access to job opportunities. He asked other employees if they had been given questions, and found that at least one other employee in October 2001 had been given information about a test for a position he was interested in, according to documents provided. Arline said he believes that the testing process needs to be made fairer for all applicants, and none should be given special treatment. He also expressed concern that when he asked Griffith if he could view his test scores, she told him he could not. The only way he was notified about his performance on tests was through receiving a pass or fail notice through the mail. "This issue has been brought up to management several times and still the problem exists" he said, "It seems that whenever an African-American employee voices their opinion, it goes in one ear and out the other." However, as these practices continued, Arline kept filing grievances for himself, but also to improve the situation for other employees. But with the grievances, came retaliation, he said, as he soon began having problems with performance evaluations received from two of his supervisors, when before he had none. When he applied for a position in the electrical department, he passed the test, and sat through three interviews. The supervisor told Arline that he had no problem with him, but that he needed to clean up his evaluations. Arline said, his supervisors also responded to his outspokenness, by moving him around from crew to crew, which he felt denied him the opportunity to gain valuable work experience needed to get promoted. A supervisor told him he was lucky he had a job, Arline said, when he reported it. In 2001, the stress of these incidents in addition to not being given the opportunity to defend himself in a complaint filed against him caused him to take a week¹s stress leave. "I couldn't believe these things were still happening," he said, despite all his efforts to be treated fairly. On April 29, 2002, Arline filed another grievance alleging unfair hiring practices for Street Maintenance Workers with the SEIU Local 1997, which represents city employees. In his complaint, Arline alleged that two Public Works employees were given Lead positions, without the job having been advertised or posted by the city. Earlier that year, there had been a changing of the guard at City Hall, with Caravalho, replacing interim city manager Larry Paulson, who retired. So Arline brought the issues to his ears. On Aug. 5, Arline and other employees from Public Works met with Caravalho to discuss the problems they faced, and asked Caravalho's office to investigate Public Works instead of the Human Resources Department, which they no longer trusted to handle the situation. Arline said that Caravalho was shocked, that he would not tolerate any behavior which caused a hostile working environment because the city had a "zero tolerance" policy in place and would investigate the situation himself. Three weeks later, Caravalho visited Public Works, Arline said, and told them he would spend the next 60 days interviewing every employee in the department. Caravalho told the Black Voice that he was looking into the situation in Public Works and that he had zero tolerance for workplace harassment. EEO statistics back Arline's assertions. According to the most recent EEO report, African-American employees comprise 10 percent of the employees in Public Works, yet there is no African-American employee in supervision or management positions. About 25 percent of employees in Public Works are Hispanic, and over 50 percent are White. White men hold virtually every supervisory or management position, with Hispanic men holding only three similar positions. Arline and 16 other city employees filed a suit in U.S. District Court in 1997, and watched as the city spent thousands on legal fees to try to get their case dismissed. He contrasted that with the situation in 2000 involving nine White Riverside Police Department sergeants who filed grievances with the city alleging reverse discrimination. In that case, he said, the city tried to settle with the officers, and within a year, four involved with that lawsuit were promoted. Though when it comes to who's responsible, Arline along with other city employees point their fingers at the Human Resources Department. "If Human Resources had responded, then the city wouldn't be in the mess it is now," he said. Human Resources continues to maintain its silence on this issue.
(Correction: In the previous Arline article, it was reported that four of the newly promoted specialists were White, and one Hispanic. Four were Hispanic, and one was White.)

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