Minority workers have filed a discrimination lawsuit against the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 14 and several other construction groups alleging they have systematically discriminated against men and women of color in the hiring and employment of operating engineers.
The class action lawsuit, filed by five plaintiffs on behalf of at least 100 union workers, alleges that Local 14 has “intentionally and systematically discriminated in favor of white members in the assignment of work to operating engineers.”
Local 14 is part of a larger umbrella group represented by the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.
A spokesperson for Local 14 declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.
According to the complaint, of Local 14’s 1,200 members all but about 100 are white. The minority members allege they are underrepresented in the industry and constantly relegated to lower paying jobs of shorter duration at construction sites.
The lawsuit also alleges the union “actively prevents many minorities from joining the union while welcoming whites.”
“Local 14 intentionally limits the membership of non-whites by informing individuals who inquire over the phone about membership that ‘the books are closed,’ meaning that Local 14 is purportedly not accepting new members,” the complaint reads. “Local 14 however, routinely accepts new members who are referred or sponsored by existing white members.”
The lawsuit comes on the same day that the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York is holding a rally near City Hall to demand new safety protocolsafter a recent rise in construction fatalities in the city.
The Trades Council is asking the City Council to pass legislation that would require union-run apprentice programs for buildings that are taller than 10 stories in order to better train workers and inform them of their rights.
But plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue that minorities are often forced into long, low-paid apprenticeships while white union members can often “cut the line” into full union membership.
“The few non-White members that are admitted into Local 14’s membership almost always must go through a long and tedious apprenticeship program,” the complaint reads. “During this program, which often lasts years for non-whites, apprentices earn a fraction of the wages of operating engineers. Even after serving as apprentices, non-whites are sometimes denied admission to membership in Local 14.”
A pre-trial hearing for the lawsuit is scheduled on Friday at the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.
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