TRENTON – Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin announced today that the Division on Civil Rights (DCR) has issued a Finding of Probable Cause (FPC) against Ironworkers Local 11, a local chapter of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Ironworkers Union, AFL-CIO. The FPC centers on allegations that Local 11, through the conduct and actions of its former business manager Raymond Woodall, violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) by giving preferential job-assignment treatment to white members, maintaining a union hall climate in which racial slurs were tolerated, and retaliating against a Black union member after she objected to the use of racial slurs against her and to other disparate treatment of Black union members.
In a complaint filed with DCR, a Black female union member alleged that white Local 11 members routinely received preferred job referrals – typically longer-term work assignments that provided steadier wages – and that she and other Black union members often received shorter-term job referrals that lasted only a day or two.
The complaining worker also alleged that Local 11’s business manager at the time, Woodall, used racial slurs – including the “n” word and the word “shine” – to refer to Black union members.
Woodall held a position of influence within Local 11, as he was responsible for assigning jobs to the union members who lined up early each day for work. In her complaint to DCR, the Black ironworker – a Local 11 member since 1998 – alleged that the quality and duration of her work assignments diminished after she confronted Woodall about using racial slurs.
“I am deeply troubled by the extremely serious allegations of racial bias uncovered by the Division on Civil Rights’ investigation of Ironworkers Local 11. No New Jerseyan should ever be subject to racial slurs or discriminatory treatment – in the workplace or anywhere else,” said Acting Attorney General Platkin. “We will never waver in our commitment to fighting racial discrimination in our State. If employers or labor unions, and their leaders, fail to create a work environment free from discrimination, we will hold them accountable.”
“Racist slurs and favoritism toward white workers are a daily reality for many Black and Brown workers,” said Rosemary DiSavino, Deputy Director of the Division on Civil Rights. “The N.J. Law Against Discrimination offers protection against and a remedy for such abhorrent practices and DCR stands ready to enforce the law and ensure that racism is not tolerated in the workplace.”
In her complaint to DCR, the Black union member alleged that business manager Woodall used his discretion in assigning members to jobs to engage in preferential treatment of white members, referring them to long-term, high-demand jobs while she and other Black union members were relegated to short-term, less desirable jobs.
The complaining member cited such long-term assignments as Newark Airport, Goethals Bridge, Bayonne Bridge, and the American Dream mall construction project as examples of more desirable assignments that often went disproportionately to white members.
DCR’s investigation also found that the complainant faced retaliation after she confronted Woodall about his use of racial slurs during a conversation he had previously had in his office with another union member. The complainant knew about the conversation because a fellow union member had provided her with a recording of the discussion. DCR obtained a copy of the recording as part of its investigation and was able to verify that it was Woodall’s voice on said recording.
Confronted by the complainant in February 2019 about the recorded conversation, Woodall asked her to give him a copy of the recording, but she declined. Subsequently, DCR’s investigation found, the complainant’s job assignments became consistently short-term in nature, resulting in her working less than 25 hours per weekly pay period.
The Finding of Probable Cause issued today notes that, in addition to the complainant’s own allegations, DCR’s investigation resulted in the discovery of additional hostile work environment allegations by others who had been members of Local 11.
For example, another Black female ironworker who is no longer a Local 11 member told DCR that, during her time as a member, she was the target of racial slurs, was locked in a bathroom for hours at a time, was repeatedly smacked on the buttocks, and was given a pink hardhat to wear. The worker said she reported the harassment to union higher-ups on six or seven occasions, but that the union did nothing in response.
A male former Local 11 member told DCR that Woodall commonly referred to women as “split tails,” that the official often made intimidating comments threatening to “take care of” anyone who pursued complaints about him to “the international,” and that the business manager made “prank” phone calls to staff and constituents that were often either sexually explicit or contained derogatory impersonations of a stereotypical southern Black man.
In its formal response to DCR, Local 11 denied the complainant’s allegations of race-based discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation.
A Finding of Probable Cause does not represent final adjudication of a case. It means that DCR has concluded its preliminary investigation and determined there is sufficient evidence to warrant moving the complaint forward in the adjudicatory process.
The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights enforces the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the New Jersey Family Leave Act, and works to prevent, eliminate, and remedy discrimination and bias-based harassment in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation throughout New Jersey.
To view a fact sheet on racial discrimination in employment go to: https://www.njoag.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/fact_Race-Disc-Employment.pdf
To find out more information, go to www.njcivilrights.gov.