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Archive for Friday, January 6, 2006

K.C. sheet metal union accused of bypassing black members

January 6, 2006

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— Five black members of a Kansas City construction union allege in a federal lawsuit that the union is bypassing its minority members for jobs created by the city's current building boom.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, is the latest salvo in a simmering dispute between minority leaders and city and industry leaders. At issue is whether minority workers are getting a fair share of jobs in the billions of dollars of construction projects under way in Kansas City.

The lawsuit was filed against Sheet Metal Workers Local 2 by Robert G. Franklin, Glenn E. Steele, Edward W. Lewis, Darryl Bailey and Leon Booker, all of Kansas City. It seeks class action status.

A key allegation in the lawsuit involves the union's out-of-work list. Unemployed union members typically are put at the top of the list to get first chance at jobs that become available through union contractors. The lawsuit alleges that the union consistently referred white workers - even those who did not belong to the union - to those jobs over black workers who should have been referred first.

The union's attorney, Don Aubry, issued a statement saying the union would not try the case in the media.

The lawsuit, which contends the discrimination has occurred since January 2000, asks the court to award the plaintiffs back pay and compensatory and punitive damages, and credit them with lost seniority.

Arthur A. Benson II, attorney for the five union members, said the local union had about 50 black members out of a total membership of 1,300.

The relatively small number of minority workers belonging to Kansas City construction unions was one of the issues raised last year by Friends of the Greater Kansas City Coalition of Black Construction and Skilled Trades Workers.

Last June, the coalition and others protested at the H&R Block headquarters and Sprint Center projects in downtown Kansas City to call for stronger enforcement of rules about the number of minority-owned and women-owned businesses getting publicly financed contracts.

The Local 2 members who filed the lawsuit have been fighting the union over the issue for several years.

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