Reports of racism within urban fire departments are as common as kitchen fires, but one veteran African-American firefighter from Philadelphia says it was the city’s firefighters’ union, not the department itself, that retaliated against him for standing up for the interests of the union’s Black members.
Fire Lieutenant Kenneth Greene claims that he was persecuted by the union for his stance against the longstanding practice of allowing retired members to vote in union elections, which he said “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,” Courthouse News Service reports.
He has filed suit in federal court against the Philadelphia Fire Fighters' Union, Local 22, International Association of Firefighters.
Greene, who served as president of Club Valiants, the city's chapter of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters, from 2008 to 2010, says that hostility toward him grew when he began challenging the voting procedures of the union and became involved in union negotiations with the city over the department's collective bargaining agreement. He criticized the union for attempting to end a consent decree that required remedial hiring of African-American firefighters.
In his complaint, as reported in Courthouse News Service, Greene claims the local union fosters a “racially hostile and offensive environment” in which white union members regularly insulted African-Americans.
“Some of the running abusive commentary on the official Local 22 union website,” Greene’s complaint continued, “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."
Greene is seeking monetary damages for racial discrimination and asking the court to order the union to cease the discriminatory practices and retaliation against him.
(Photo: Courtesy phila.gov/fire.com)
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