November 6, 2007

Institutional Racism, Quotas, and Cranston

Carroll Andrew Morse

State Republican Chairman Giovanni Cicione touched off a minor firestorm in political circles with his statement that unions are a source of institutional racism. Monday's Political Scene column in the Projo summarized and exchange between Chairman Cicione and reporter Bill Rappleye on WJAR-TV's (NBC 10) 10 News Conference

State Republican Chairman Giovanni Cicione’s description of labor unions as the “last vestige of institutional racism” has — no surprise — led a coalition of AFL-CIO affiliated unions known as Working Rhode Island to urge Governor Carcieri to demand Cicione’s resignation....

Asked by reporter Bill Rappleye if he had indeed called unions “the last vestige of institutional racism,” Cicione said: “I did.”

“What does that mean?” he was asked. Cicione’s answer: “If you look back to the formation of the unions, it was in large part — if you look at Samuel Gompers and people like that that were the heads of those union movements — they were publicly out there saying the reason we need to have unions is to keep the Italians from taking our jobs. That was my grandparents they were talking about back when this started"...

“Nothing’s changed now,” Cicione began when Rappleye interrupted with a “Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.”

“Look at the numbers, Bill. Look at the numbers,” Cicione continued. “Go to the Cranston Fire Department. How many women are in that Fire Department? How many people of color are in that Fire Department?”

Rappleye followed up with a report on Monday that suggested in two different places that racial quotas may be considered for the Cranston fire department. In the opening, Rappleye used the q-word directly…
Some fire and police departments across Rhode Island are coming under scrutiny for their failure to meet diversity quotas.
Later in the report, Clifford Monteiro, President of the Providence Chapter of the NAACP, made a call for evaluating Cranston's hiring practices according to rigid numerical standards…
Clifford Monteiro, president of the NAACP Providence Branch, said his group has negotiated with Cranston for more than two years.

He said it has not produced any results.

"Cranston has 11 percent minorities, and there should be 11 percent in public works, 11 percent in the police department, 11 percent in the fire department," Monteiro said.

It's a little surprising to see racial quotas, labeled "highly suspect" by the United States Supreme Court, being discussed this openly. The Supreme Court has made it clear that there are very few circumstances where racial quotas are either justified or legal. The most important recent case (not involving university admissions, which is a subset of the law unto its own) is Richmond v. Croson (1989), where the Supreme Court struck down fixed-percentage race-based set asides in government contracting in the absence of evidence of actual discrimination. As the recently sainted Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in her majority opinion…
An amorphous claim that there has been past discrimination in a particular industry cannot justify the use of an unyielding racial quota.
Mr. Monteiro wants a quota in all-but-name to be applied to the Cranston fire department. He doesn't want to have to prove any specific acts of discrimination that have occurred, just that final staffing numbers prove that some form of racism must exist and therefore race-conscious government action is required. The Constitution -- and even the courts -- say clearly that this is not acceptable.

Chairman Cicione needs to be careful here, as claims of "institutional racism" belong to the same category of "amorphous" reasoning being used by Mr. Monteiro to try to justify quotas. In the future, you can be assured that Rhode Island Democrats will be citing Mr. Cicione's references to the reality of "institutional racism" as evidence of the need to change the law (whether through the legislature or through the courts) to allow more sweeping impositions of racial quotas than are allowed now.

Three other notes on Monday's Political Scene column…

  1. I'm not sure if the "no surprise" line regarding the calls for Giovanni Cicione's resignation is supposed to mean that Giovanni Cicione has again said something that has people calling for his resignation, or to mean that it has been a few days since the Democratic/labor alliance has called for someone to resign or apologize or something, so they decided they needed to put out a press release.
  2. In case anyone is wondering, it is documented that Samuel Gompers held nativist attitudes. Perhaps the current leadership of the AFL-CIO should apologize for his statements, to help smooth things over with various offended groups.

    Personally, I don't think that's necessary. The whole idea of apologizing for things that someone else did 100 or more years ago is pretty silly.

  3. Even if I was pro-quota (which I'm not), noting that Cranston has no residency requirement for firemen, I would wonder why their staffing totals would be expected to reflect just the population of Cranston, instead of a wider possible hiring area?

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Working in a pretty white industry (at least in R.I.), I can understand what's going on here. I worked in a very white shop for years - no blacks, and one Hispanic who lasted about 18 months before going back to Texas (both moves probably driven by a relationship). Not that we wanted it that way - we just never got minority applicants for openings.
Quotas? No. A little effort reaching out to minorities for professional improvement and encouraging them to apply for jobs? yes.

Posted by: rhody at November 6, 2007 2:06 PM

In this state, any more to institute quotas should be countered with the argument that, since the white male conservative is the smallest minority in the state, we should get special consideration.

Posted by: Greg at November 6, 2007 2:23 PM

For the record, the request was not that Mr. Cicione resign, it was that the Governor ask him to resign. A subtle, but important, difference.

Actual letter below:
October 30, 2007

The Honorable Donald L. Carcieri, Governor
State of Rhode Island
State House
Providence, RI 02903-1196

Dear Governor Carcieri,

We write on behalf of the Rhode Island labor community to express our grave concern over a series of comments made by Giovanni Cicione regarding unionized workers, labor unions, and union leaders since being named as chair of the Republican Party this past March.

We write to you because it is clear that Mr. Cicione serves at your behest. In your press release endorsing his candidacy, you stated:

“Gio and I share a vision of a Republican Party that is a vital, active and inclusive organization that reaches out to diverse communities throughout Rhode Island.”

In one of his first radio appearances, Mr. Cicione followed your inclusive theme when he noted that the RI GOP has given up on unions and minorities and that the party “needed to address that.”

Since that time, Mr. Cicione’s actions have not lived up to his original mandate, and we can no longer overlook his continuing penchant for making inflammatory statements as “rookie mistakes.” His efforts are damaging any opportunity we may have to at least work together in areas where we share common ground.

While we disagree with you on the subject of state employee layoffs, you spoke of your decision as a painful one; in contrast, Mr. Cicione’s made the insensitive and hurtful statement that your proposed elimination of 1000 jobs of state employees was “a good start.”

When several teacher collective bargaining agreements remained unsettled at the beginning of the current school year, you stated that you supported an exploration of possibilities to allow contracts to be settled well before the start of school. In contrast, Mr. Cicione made the ill-informed and inflammatory suggestion that the U.S. Attorney launch a racketeering investigation against teacher unions whose members were engaged in job actions.

Again, while we may not share your opinions on the structure of the safety net supporting Rhode Islanders most in need, you must have cringed, as we did, when Mr. Cicione referred to those who advocate for the neediest among us as “poverty pimps”.

The above statements by Mr. Cicione should have been enough to cause you to reconsider your unqualified support for his role as Republican Party chairman. Indeed, many labor leaders have been contacted by the elected Republicans throughout the state (whose numbers have shrunk since Mr. Cicione became party chairman) for the purpose of separating themselves from his unfortunate remarks.

In the last few weeks, however, Mr. Cicione has reached a new, and unforgivable, low. Remarks that you made on a talk radio show concerning the role of interpreters in state government were widely covered in the media. In the ensuing war of words between Mr. Cicione and the chair of the Democratic party, Mr. Cicione chose to attempt to deflect attention from the issue, reportedly on your behalf at the request of Mr. Kass, by stating that unions were “the last vestige of institutional racism in this country.” When given a chance to retract those comments on the most recent edition of “10 News Conference”, Mr. Cicione instead chose to reiterate, defend and even expand upon them.

Simply put, Mr. Cicone’s remarks equating unions with racism were outrageous. The Republican Party, if they truly wish to reach out to members of the minority and union communities, including their own members within those communities, would be better served by different leadership. We ask that you immediately demand Mr. Cicione’s resignation as Republican Party chairman as he clearly no longer shares your vision.

Governor, as you know and as we have discussed as recently as a few weeks ago, we have many areas of disagreement, but we also have common ground in many areas as well. We wish to work together to make Rhode Island a better place, and to pursue an agenda that includes good jobs, strong public schools, a healthy environment, and a respected government. We look forward to working together on those issues with you.

Very truly yours,

Frank Montanaro
Chairman, Working RI
President, RI AFL-CIO

George Nee
Secretary-Treasurer, RI AFL-CIO

Robert A. Walsh, Jr.
Working Rhode Island

cc: Senator Dennis Algiere,
Senate Minority Leader
Representative Robert Watson, House Minority Leader

Posted by: Bob Walsh at November 6, 2007 2:44 PM

"For the record, the request was not that Mr. Cicione resign, it was that the Governor ask him to resign."

This is so far from a resigning offense that it is laughable. This is setting the stage for yet another lame, baseless attack on the Governor in order to both distract us from the fiscal straits the state is in and to punish the Governor for attempting to address those straits.

The Providence Journal (certain individuals at least), Billy Lynch and now the public labor unions - lately, they've been like spoiled children who squall and throw tantrums when an adult (the Governor) tries to restore discipline.

As to the underlying issue. I am not big on quotas. On the other hand, the uniformity of race and color (and, until recently, of gender) of the Cranston Fire Dept has always struck me as strange. Actually, it's fine with me if it is necessary to preclude certain individual women due to the physical requirements of the job. But this does not explain the other exclusions. How have fire departments around the state and the region managed to integrate but not Cranston?

Gio's statement may or may not have been overly broad. But "on the face of it", it certainly seems applicable in the case of the Cranston Fire Dept.

Posted by: Monique at November 6, 2007 4:14 PM

If the Dems (or their pals) had half a brain, they wouldn't be seeking Gio's resignation (or Carcieri's request for it). Why help out an enemy who embarasses the GOP every time he opens his mouth?
Not that Bill Lynch is any more competent. But the Dems have a large enough party not to be as dependent on an official spokesman.

Posted by: rhody at November 6, 2007 4:42 PM

Whoever wrote the Channel 10 story needs to be fired. There are no "diversity quotas" for RI departments.

Such things are only imposed by court orders, such as the consent decree that forced the Boston Fire Department to hire minority candidates- over higher-scoring whites- for over 10 years. Within the last several years the order was lifted.

QUOTAS are racism. Not a lack of qualified candidates.

Posted by: EMT at November 6, 2007 4:53 PM


Ciccione's comments were on the mark. The only organization 'whiter' than the union community here in Rhode Island is the hierarchy of the state Democratic party. Btw read 'nothing' into the fact that both Nee and Montanaro reside in Cranston and are cozy with city gov't and the fire dept.
No pumpernickle bread served at their table. Ever! lol


The Three Stooges strike again!
Why do you clowns waste our time with this silly irrelevant nonsense? If you want to issue a press release then just issue a press release. Why dress it up as some supposed letter to the governor? He doesn't care what you whitebread clowns are up to and neither do we.
Bob, wouldn't your time be better spent doing what you do best, i.e. defending the horrid urban school status quo that's so harmful to the minority community? Why waste our time or yours with this silly PR crapola? You've got real damaging work to do.

Posted by: Tim at November 6, 2007 5:10 PM

The real problem with Cranston is that they have twice as many firemen as they need, receive waaaaay too many benefits and retire waaaaay too early.

Posted by: Mike at November 6, 2007 8:19 PM

"Male, Pale, And Stale" — And Hypocritical?

UNION OFFICIALS PRETEND TO REFLECT THEIR DIVERSE MEMBERSHIP, YET THEY CONTINUE TO BE OVERWHELMINGLY "MALE, PALE, AND STALE," AS SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION (SEIU) PRESIDENT ANDY STERN HAS REMARKED. Of course, even the leadership of Stern's breakaway Change to Win coalition is controlled predominantly by white males. While union officials never cease complaining about the composition of America's business executives, they would do well to look at their own leadership.

The face of the labor movement isn't its only black eye when it comes to diversity. According to documents obtained by the Center for Union Facts from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), labor unions have faced more than 13,000 charges of discrimination since 2000. And unions have had to pay more than $6 million in fines. Those charges include:
Complaints of race discrimination: 4,248

Complaints of age discrimination: 3,386

Complaints of sex discrimination: 1,820

Complaints of disability discrimination: 1,642

Complaints of religious discrimination: 297

Posted by: Tom W at November 6, 2007 8:57 PM

I still don't know whether they thought they would be taken anymore seriously than the Unabomer writing something in crayon. Gio's loving the fuss they're making over it (I recently heard that he was trying to make "Gio" the union's new three-letter word). It's funny that the labor unions felt the need to first state something that is not objectively true, that Gio "serves at your behest". While Gio may have been the candidate that the governor backed, he was still elected by the RIGOP delegates, not selected. From my perspective, he has done a lot behind the scenes to try to build up the party. That he's not afraid to shake up some people who can stand to be shaken, is a good thing. I also find it a highly ironic statement on their part, since the vast majority of Democrats in the General Assembly apparently serve at the behest of the unions.

Here's the problem with the Cranston FD, which could be basically anywhere in Rhode Island. Let's say that the mayor of the city wants to hire equally qualified minorities to the fire department, in the general interest of promoting diversity. I'm not talking about specific quotas, or "dumbing down" of the tests in order to sneak people in or anything like that. We know there are minorities that would be more than capable of doing the same job, but they are denied the chance to excel, because the problem is, as it was and is still in Cranston, that the mayor can only hire firefighters who belong to the union, since it is a "closed shop" (not "right to work"). Since there are apparently no minorities which have been "let in" to that union, they cannot possibly be hired, even if the city wants them there. Would you expect some kind of diversity, if you were told that the only pool of workers which you can select from are all white? Not likely.

While there may not necessarily be an overt racist motive in keeping out minorities, it still has the end result of a lily-white workforce focused entirely on protecting their self interests first, by not letting in new blood. They know their workforce is bloated compared to most other cities of similar size. It's called protectionism, and in the long run, it never works. It simply serves to put off the inevitable, and in the process, exasperate the problem.

PS Of course, my solution to the general problem would be to eliminate all public sector unions, since they primarily exists to promote their own interests, not the public interest. However, barring the arrest and conviction of more than half of the members of the general assembly, that won't probably happen too soon.

Posted by: Will at November 6, 2007 9:56 PM

The real problem with Cranston is that they have twice as many firemen as they need, receive waaaaay too many benefits and retire waaaaay too early.

Actually, they need another station in Western Cranston (10-minute response times are unacceptable for a paid department in 2007), and NFPA-complaint staffing department wide. It would probably double the department, minus a few.

But you didn't know that, because you have no idea what you're talking about.

But you feel tough after that post, don't you.

Posted by: EMT at November 6, 2007 11:30 PM

>>However, barring the arrest and conviction of more than half of the members of the general assembly, that won't probably happen too soon.

If that's the criteria, then the necessary change may be coming sooner than we think!

Can you say "Operation Dollar Bill?"

Posted by: Tom W at November 7, 2007 12:35 AM

Cicione was trying to get headlines and he succeded. I don't think that unions are racist or sexist. But they are about protecting the status quo and their existing members.

Years ago, that meant "protecting" union jobs from immigrant Italians who might take the same jobs for less money. Unions are still trying to protect jobs from others who might take the same job for less money. It's less about race, ethnicity or gender than it is about existing members and newcomers.

Hard quotas aren't the way to go. But we do need to find out why there aren't more minorities serving in police and fire departments. Perhaps recruiting procedures need to be re-looked. Are there qualified minority applicants? If not, what is being done to attact qualified minority applicants. In the end, the best person for the job should be hired regardless of race or gender.

Someone else pointed out that RI Democrats were the worst case example of a lack of diversity. It has changed somewhat, but there's no question that if you're a female, you don't stand much of a chance moving up through the Democrat hierachy. That's why many of the most notable female RI politicians were Republican--Claudiene Schneider, Susan Farmer, Lila Sapinsley, Arlene Violet, Nancy Mayer, etc.

Posted by: Anthony at November 7, 2007 10:33 AM

>>Years ago, that meant "protecting" union jobs from immigrant Italians who might take the same jobs for less money. Unions are still trying to protect jobs from others who might take the same job for less money. It's less about race, ethnicity or gender than it is about existing members and newcomers.

Actually that's not entirely true. It used to be - up until a few years ago the AFL-CIO was very much against large scale immigration, particularly illegal immigration, for it well recognized the negative impact it would have upon its members.

Today several of the unions are cutting the feet out from under American workers by pushing for a continued influx of illegal aliens (and amnesty of course amnesty for them).

Supply and demand dictates that this increased supply of cheap labor lowers wages across the board (call it a "trickle up" effect); it first negatively impacts native-born minority / disadvantaged groups (particularly Blacks), but eventually has an effect up the line. To paraphrase John Kennedy, a "an outgoing tide lowers all boats."

SEIU and Change to Win (the SEIU led spinoff from AFL-CIO) is out front on this, as much of its organizing targets are low-skilled labor such as janitors and daycare workers (recall its attempt to unionize them here, which they've successfully done in several other states). SEIU is an organizing machine that only cares about acquiring members and the dues income that will come with them.

So SEIU and other unions are cutting the legs out from under American "working families" in their quest to increase the unions' dues stream and power.

Some of the trades and manufacturing unions are still opposed to illegal immigration, but fewer by the year. That is because - FOLLOW THE MONEY - as unions have become less attractive to American workers, the unions have found that they can relatively easily organize gullible and unsophisticated immigrants, illegals included.

What unionized American workers in the private sector haven't caught on to yet is that the unions are collecting their dues while (largely) throwing them under the bus: organized labor today is dominated by an agenda to benefit government workers (whose lavish pay and benefits is paid for by taxes extracted from private sector union members) and increasing dues income via the same immigrant / illegal labor that is having a lowering impact upon "middle class" and minority-American incomes (not to mention the taxes required to support the ever growing "social service" and educational burden supporting the illegals).

Posted by: Tom W at November 7, 2007 11:45 AM

Unbelievable! With a few exceptions in the posts, it is clear to me and most likley every other INFORMED reader that these people have no idea on what they are speaking about. Cities hire and THEN Unions protect. Unions do not make the hiring list. The problem with Cranston Fire has nothing to do with having too many has too FEW! Again check the national consensus standards. Get the facts before speaking on this topic. Racism? Are you kidding me? Every person has the opportunity and right to test so long as they are qualified. They will be hired as long as they pass. Many of the larger city departments in the country actually have minority employees go out and attempt to recruit fellow minorities and they fail because there is dis-interest from some communities to become civil servants. Somehow this is the Unions fault? Come on. Get the facts. Cranston will hire a female....a qualified one. Cranston has already had minority males...long ago and they retired already. Yeah think about that the minority group that you state is being excluded actually was represented for so long that they reached retirement. There is no institutional racism in Cranston Fire. I do not work in Cranston, or RI for that matter, but this I do know CFD has one of the best reputations in the nation for upholding high hiring practices and standards to ensure that the citizens get the most for their money. The sad part is that every time CFD is criticized it is over falsehoods and they are never criticized for the reality of being a short staffed and over worked FD. Get the facts and you may find yourself supporting CFD and higher staffing numbers.....that may actually result in hiring those minority groups in the process.

Posted by: Johnny Cash at February 18, 2009 4:44 PM

When he reached Saint Cloud he entered a tavern and ordered some bread be the true way of things? It is better to know it, if it is." the morning, she left me tired out, but more in love with her than ever.

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