May 9, 2000 Tuesday
It should have been a perfect match.
Shane Hamilton was young and eager to work
at the construction site of Perry nuclear power plant.
The plant needed hundreds of men to build
the gigantic concrete cooling towers that loom over Perry to this
But Hamilton was black and Local 496 of the
Laborers' International Union of North America, responsible for
hiring, knew it. Union officials made him write his race on his
application. He and many other black applicants were never hired.
Blacks were told they had to join the union
in order to work, but that they couldn't join the union if they
didn't have a job and a connection to someone in the local.
Some never forgot the rejection. They sued.
Last week, after 16 years, Hamilton and 51
others finally were vindicated when the U.S. Supreme Court refused
to hear the union's final appeal.
U.S. District Judge Kathleen O'Malley had
found the local union guilty in 1996 of racial discrimination,
and its parent union guilty of aiding and abetting it.
The plaintiffs won almost $2 million. Complaints
from the local that it can't pay its share - it owes $480,000
and lists assets of $460,000 - should be brushed away like a whining
mosquito. The parent union, which refused to rein in the local,
paid its share. It should be able to spare a dime - or more.
No matter how you calculate it, the plaintiffs
lost much more: They lost the opportunity to hold a high-paying
job to support their families during a recession in Northeast
Ohio. And they lost a chance to be judged on their merits.
Broken, sagging dreams form the corrosive
residue that racism leaves behind.
The union still refuses to admit that it
discriminated, despite the evidence. But testimony showed that
inexperienced white workers with relatives on the job received
preference, while black applicants were passed over.
The union already had a scandalous reputation.
Until last January, it was overseen by the
Justice Department because of charges that it had mobsters on
The loss of this class action adds one more
disgrace to the Laborers' ignominious history, though Business
Manager Floyd Conrad sums up the case by saying, "The courts
are set up to help criminals and freeloaders. We definitely don't
have anything to be sorry for."
Unfortunately, it sounds as if Local 496
hasn't learned a thing.