Feb. 10, 2005
Reprinted in its entirety
© 2005 Northeast Times
are hot and bothered
By Tom Waring
Times Staff Writer
[Northeast Times 02-10-05] -- The
Concerned American Fire Fighters Associations Philadelphia chapter thinks its
diligence might have finally paid off.
| CAFFA is a vocal
opponent of the Philadelphia Fire Departments hiring policies. Specifically, group
members say they are angry that the department has regularly exceeded a longtime federal
court decree in an apparent attempt to increase the number of black firefighters.
Class 179, which started on Jan. 3, represents a reversal of recent department hiring
practices. The class originally consisted of 74 recruits, including two being trained for
the Upper Darby Fire Department.
Of the 72 Philadelphians in that class, 55 were white and 10 were black. The rest were
Hispanics who generally scored low on entrance tests but were hired because they are
CAFFA is pleased that the city finally came close to adhering to the consent decree, which
requires that at least 12 percent of fire department classes consist of black recruits.
The organization says it is accustomed to watching department executives flagrantly ignore
the 12-percent figure by increasing the number of black candidates for jobs in the fire
"Now, all of a sudden, they stop. Maybe their conscience got to them," said Lt.
Mike Bresnan, a Torresdale resident and president of the local chapter.
Bresnans group will keep the pressure on city officials to stick to the 12-percent
decree, as long as its in effect.
"Hopefully, they learned their lesson," he said.
The controversy dates to January 1974, when Club Valiants -- an organization of black
Philadelphia firefighters -- filed a class-action complaint against Mayor Frank L. Rizzo,
Fire Commissioner Joe Rizzo, Managing Director Hillel Levinson and others.
The organization alleged
discrimination against minorities in hiring and promotions.
The court ultimately ordered the city to increase promotions of blacks by, among other
things, adding points to their test scores. Among the beneficiaries was a would-be captain
named Harold Hairston, who would later become the city fire commissioner.
CAFFA, though, is largely focused
on hiring practices.
According to October 1973 figures, only 8 percent of firemen were black, even though
blacks represented one-third of Philadelphias population.
The fire department then, as it does now, hired from an eligibility list composed of
candidates who pass a written, multiple-choice examination. Veterans are given 10
U.S. District Judge Louis C. Bechtle, who established the 12-percent figure, ultimately
ruled that the fire department did not intentionally discriminate, but he found that
blacks did not pass the entrance test at the same rate as whites.
The city has developed several remedies, including changing its exam to make it easier to
pass and aggressively recruiting black candidates.
However, the biggest change has occurred since at least 1997, the first year that CAFFA
has hiring documentation. The city, the group argues, simply skips white candidates to
hire black and Hispanic recruits with lower scores.
The organization points to classes 175-178, which were hired from June 2002 to October
According to documents obtained by CAFFA, 41 individuals -- all veterans -- were hired in
Class 175. The score rankings for the white hires ranged from 4 to 38.5. The black hires
were ranked generally lower, from 33 to 108. The figures were similar for classes 176, 177
Criticism of the policy is not new.
After the Valiants filed their original complaint more than 30 years ago, City Solicitor
Sheldon Albert argued that it would be unfair to impose a quota by ignoring the rank on
the eligibility list.
Bechtle dismissed that view in a July 1974 opinion.
"Well, the courts comment on that is simply this: No person has a vested
interest in an unlawful hiring list, and if a person appears on a list that has been
prepared in violation of law, his right to remain on that list in a certain rank must give
way to the lawful requirements to avoid discriminatory hiring."
Bechtle suggested that any employee with a complaint should petition the city.
Today, CAFFA says, times have changed. While the Rizzo administration was no fan of the
court action, the Street administration doesnt seem to want to change the hiring
Calls to Mayor John Street and Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers -- a former president of Club
Valiants -- were not returned. Lt. Claude Smith, president of the Valiants, offered no
CAFFA has written to several members of City Council, with little success.
"Its a political hot potato," said Joe Montague, a Bustleton resident and
vice president of the group.
CAFFA has also brought its complaints to Local 22, the union representing Philadelphia
The organization, though, understands that the union cannot afford to alienate its 900
black members. In addition, the union does not begin representing individuals who have
passed the entrance test until they are hired.
Local 22 president Tom ODrain, who lives in Tacony, said anger over the enduring
federal consent decree is festering among some firefighters and causing a bit of a divide
in the department.
ODrain would like to sit down with the city, CAFFA and the Valiants to address the
"I think CAFFA has the right to disagree with the citys hiring practices,"
he said, adding that he takes no position.
The local CAFFA chapter formed in February 2004 -- Chicago firefighters established the
first one in 1993 -- and has about 400 members of all ranks. The group is also open to
non-firefighters who support its cause.
CAFFA also welcomes minorities. In fact, the treasurer, Torresdale resident Kelvin Fong,
is an Asian-. There are also black and Hispanic members.
"Its about equal opportunity for all," Fong said.
In past years, many firefighters were hesitant to speak out about the decree. That seems
to be changing.
"There are a lot of disgruntled people," said retired Chief John Hunter, who
lives in Somerton.
CAFFA has a Web site -- www.caffaphilly.net
-- and also works with Adversity.Net, a Maryland-based non-profit company founded in 1997
to promote fair and equal treatment under the law without regard to race.
Tim Fay, chairman and founder of the company [Adversity.Net], has posted on his Web site
statistics and a study showing that the city and the fire department are hiring black
recruits who score well below whites on the entrance test.
"Theyve continued to exceed the minority hiring goal," he said.
The city policy also has an unintended consequence, according to Bresnan, the local CAFFA
Black firefighters are stigmatized by some of their white colleagues. Its not fair,
Bresnan said, to those firefighters who scored high enough to be hired without the decree
or the extra boost from the city.
"There are blacks that get hired legitimately," he said.
CAFFA does not like the 12-percent decree, but it really despises the practice of hiring
recruits whose scores fall below that cutoff. The organization, noting that Bechtle is
retired, wants a new judge assigned to the case in hopes that the decree will be lifted.
There are dozens of white people who have passed the test but not been hired because the
city ignores the decree, CAFFA argues.
"They take the test, and have no idea theyre being passed over," Bresnan
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Feb. 10, 2005
Reprinted in its entirety
© 2005 Northeast Times
Ebony and Ivory
Heres a simple question for
all Americans -- for everyone from the simple-minded to the deepest thinkers:
How many black Americans like to be singled out for anything merely because theyre
black? And how many white Americans like to lose out on a job merely because
theyre white? An honest answer probably would be, very, very few.
Hiring somebody to do a job -- any job, be it police officer, firefighter, teacher,
janitor, basketball player, whatever -- based on the color of their skin is patently
offensive and directly contrary to what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so forcefully
and eloquently expressed in his I Have a Dream speech.
February is Black History Month, so this is a good time to point out there is something
very unsettling about using pigmentation as the basis for anything in America these days.
Weve come too far as a society. Blacks are people, too. We all get that message, and
we all agree with it.
Therefore, it is distressing to know that the City of Philadelphia is still hiring
firefighters on the basis of their skin color, thanks to a federal consent decree.
An assurance that at least 12 percent of fire department classes consist of black recruits
is just as wrong as an assurance that at least 12 percent of the classes consist of white
recruits . . . or Hispanic recruits . . . or Asian recruits, etc.
The consent decree should have been put to sleep long ago, along with all the other
vestiges of racial discrimination.
Efforts such as aggressive outreach and recruitment in "minority" communities
and bilingual training for present and future firefighters are a much better way to go to
make the Philadelphia Fire Department more representative of the population as a whole.
"Reverse" discrimination -- i.e., discrimination against whites who do well on
examinations but are the "wrong" color -- is just as wrong as discrimination
against blacks. -30-
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END Case 34: (E) Newspaper Coverage 2-10-05