Naked City

Black Firefighters Break with Union

On Jan. 16, Austin firefighter Ray Hendricks announced that he and nearly all of the 52 African-American fire fighters within the Austin Fire Dept. are breaking ranks with the local firefighters union, the Austin Association of Professional Firefighters. "Within the last four months ... over 85% of the African-American Fire Fighters removed themselves from the Fire Fighters union as a result of what appears to be unfair hiring and labor practices," Hendricks said a prepared statement.

A 22-year veteran of the AFD, Hendricks says the AFD has not proactively pursued its own minority recruitment efforts. Furthermore, he adds, the department's percentage of African-Americans has actually stagnated since a federal consent decree lapsed in 1980. In 1977, only two African-Americans belonged to AFD ranks; under the decree, the department boosted the number to 50. After 22 years, that number has increased by only two, compared to 738 white firefighters.

Hendricks isn't alone in his accusations. In May 2000, Michael Rhone, brother-in-law of State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, filed suit in Travis County District Court claiming that the AFD exhibited racial bias in its hiring practices and violated collective bargaining agreements by declining to accept him into the AFD's 105th cadet class. According to Rhone's petition, AFD Captain David Bunn made derogatory remarks in the margins of Rhone's departmental application. Court filings show that in one instance, near Rhone's explanation as to why he had allowed his auto insurance to lapse, Bunn wrote, "Was this in the time when he didn't think it was important to pay his bills?" In all, the court record reflects five such examples which, combined with other "irregularities" in the department's interview process, showed "racial animus" toward Rhone, wrote Rhone's attorney, David Dickson. According to court records, Rhone's case is still pending.

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