Court “Remedies” Union Discrimination with More Racial Tracking

Court “Remedies” Union Discrimination
with More Racial Tracking

by Diane Schachterle
April/May 2002

Originally published November/December 2001 in The Egalitarian

On October 15, 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case of Honeywell v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. By doing so, the Court let stand a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, drawing Honeywell, Inc. and Johnson Controls into a 20-year-old lawsuit without their consent or request and requiring them to track and report members of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada by name, race and Social Security number.

In 1968, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accused the union of discriminating against black members. In its complaint, the agency alleged that the union, which acted as the sole referral source of pipefitters to a wide range of industries in Ohio, referred white pipefitters for work at higher rates of pay and for longer periods than black union members. The court agreed and ordered the union to keep records to show that the practice had stopped.

More than 20 years later, the court said the union was not keeping those records, and to ensure compliance the judge enjoined Honeywell and Johnson Controls (two of the companies that use the union workers) to the lawsuit, requiring that they track and report the race of all union referrals.

Honeywell and Johnson Controls argued that the case “has national importance because a federal court has involuntarily joined innocent third parties to a lawsuit – without any finding of wrongdoing on their part – and ordered them to perform affirmative obligations contained in a 20-year-old consent decree.”

The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear this case, at the urging of the Bush administration, effectively placed a stamp of approval on this extraordinary act of judicial activism: forcing innocent parties to join a lawsuit and then ordering them to collect racial data to remedy the discrimination of another entity. This ruling expands the courts’ powers and appears to elevate racial data collection to the status of a remedy for discrimination, in and of itself. Using racial data collection as a means to verify that the union was, in fact, changing its referral patterns and ending proven past discrimination,is one thing; however, since the court did not fine the union for noncompliance until 1992, 20 years later, it gives the appearance of the racial data collection being the remedy. This case presents two different, but equally worrisome precendents: the expansion of court powers and increasing use of racial data collection on the one hand, and the Bush administration continuing to support racialist policies on the other. A court monitor assigned to the union would seem a far more effective method of ending the discrimination immediately, and yet the administration continues to advocate data collection and preference schemes as in the Adarand case. Where discrimination exists, the remedy should be swift and decisive, not twenty-odd years of expanding racial data collection. The executive and judicial branches of government have let down both the pipefitters and the American public with this decision. Justice is not served by more racial tracking.

by Diane Schachterle

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