The Plain Dealer

Cleveland, OH

Blacks Win Appeal Of Perry Hiring Suit

By Susan Jaffe Plain Dealer Reporter
May 1, 1999

NORTH PERRY:Black workers denied construction jobs at the Perry nuclear power plant have won a 15-year-old discrimination suit.

The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati yesterday upheld a lower court ruling that the Laborers International Union of North America and its Madison-based Local 496 discriminated against the workers.

The union ran a hiring hall that was responsible for sending workers to Perry to build the plant. Donald "Nick" Robinson of Painesville was one of the few blacks working at the site. He also served as a union steward. New workers had to report to him. "After a year, when I didn't see any blacks coming for the jobs, I thought something was wrong," he said. "I complained to the union."

He said white workers with no experience or union membership were hired while blacks were told they had to join the union. The union told the black applicants they couldn't join unless they had a job. The situation was "a Catch-22; they couldn't win," Robinson said.

Floyd Conrad, the Laborers union business manager, and attorneys representing the union did not return messages late yesterday. "I can remember putting a guy to work who came right out of high school, with no experience, when there were dozens of blacks who couldn't get a job," Robinson said. "That's what upset me."

In 1982, Robinson filed a complaint with the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of 14 workers denied jobs. The complaint became the basis of the suit, which was filed in 1984.

Conrad testified that his union did not refer a single black nonunion member for Perry employment, even though the union promised in its contract to refer both members and nonmembers. His testimony came at the trial in U.S. District Court in Cleveland. Also, white relatives of Local 496 members frequently were given breaks in applying for the jobs, he said.

In June 1996, U.S. District Judge Kathleen O'Malley approved a settlement under which Local 496 agreed to pay $100,000 and its parent union $200,000 to the plaintiffs. The unions agreed Local 496 would give blacks preference in referrals for jobs.

On appeal, Local 496 questioned O'Malley's reasoning in siding with the plaintiffs. Judges R. Guy Cole Jr. and Damon Keith upheld O'Malley's finding. Judge Alice Batchelder dissented, saying she saw no reason to hold the parent union liable for Local 496's actions.

The Perry plant began operating in 1987 and was owned by the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co., which became part of the FirstEnergy Corp. last year. FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Schneider denied that racial discrimination took place during construction. "I'm sure no one was aware of that," he said. "That would violate the EEOC as well as our own internal policy."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this article

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