Black Firefighters and the FDNY: The Struggle for Jobs, Justice, and Equity in New York City

Black Firefighters and the FDNY: The Struggle for Jobs, Justice, and Equity in New York City

Black Firefighters and the FDNY: The Struggle for Jobs, Justice, and Equity in New York City

Black Firefighters and the FDNY: The Struggle for Jobs, Justice, and Equity in New York City

Synopsis

For many African Americans, getting a public sector job has historically been one of the few paths to the financial stability of the middle class, and in New York City, few such jobs were as sought-after as positions in the fire department (FDNY). For over a century, generations of Black New Yorkers have fought to gain access to and equal opportunity within the FDNY. Tracing this struggle for jobs and justice from 1898 to the present, David Goldberg details the ways each generation of firefighters confronted overt and institutionalized racism. An important chapter in the histories of both Black social movements and independent workplace organizing, this book demonstrates how Black firefighters in New York helped to create affirmative action from the "bottom up," while simultaneously revealing how white resistance to these efforts shaped white working-class conservatism and myths of American meritocracy.

Full of colorful characters and rousing stories drawn from oral histories, discrimination suits, and the archives of the Vulcan Society (the fraternal society of Black firefighters in New York), this book sheds new light on the impact of Black firefighters in the fight for civil rights.

Excerpt

In a historic 2012 decision, Eastern District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled that the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) had knowingly and intentionally implemented and maintained racially discriminatory hiring processes throughout its history. the case, United States and Vulcan Society v. City of New York (U.S. v. City of New York), developed out of a 2002 federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint filed by fdny captain Paul Washington—at the time the president of the Vulcan Society, the oldest and largest Black firefighters’ organization in the nation— on behalf of New York’s Black firefighters as well as minority residents, past and present, who were systemically excluded from the department by these policies and practices. Assisted by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the law firm of Levy Ratner, Washington’s eeoc complaint focused largely on the historic and ongoing discriminatory intent and impact of the written examinations used to rank applicants and determine eligibility to advance to the next stages of the hiring process. Despite a mountain of overwhelming evidence that showed that the test, eligibility ranking system, and hiring process as a whole were blatantly discriminatory, the city and the fdny failed to acknowledge or accept responsibility and stubbornly refused to institute reforms in compliance with standing employment discrimination laws, standards, and regulations. the recalcitrance and repeated unwillingness of the city and the fdny to negotiate in good faith eventually led the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to intervene in the case. in 2007, the doj joined with the Vulcan Society, the ccr, and a class of recent minority applicants and filed formal racial discrimination charges against the city and the fdny in federal court.

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