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PUC decides to get serious about an
Investigation of Racism within its ranks

by Roland Sheppard

IN THE JUNE 9TH ISSUE OF the San Francisco Bay View, Anita Labossiere and I wrote the article "Southeast sewage plant: pollution and prejudice work together as weapons of mass destruction." In that article we invited all to "protest racism against Black workers at the PUC Tuesday, 1:30 pm, Room 400 City Hall."

As you may be aware, from reading the Bay View, at the regular Meeting of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission that was held in December, promises were made to begin an investigation of racism at the water treatment plants.

In the June 9th article, we explained that these promises were never kept. At the regular meeting of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission that was held on June 8, 2004, things went a little bit differently than at past meetings of the PUC. At these previous meetings it was only Anita and myself addressing the problems of racism at the Southeast Water Treatment Plant (SWTP) that were directed towards her and the Bay View Hunters Point (BVHP) community. We had to use the agenda point: "public comment" to address these points.

At 6/8 meeting, in addition to Anita and myself,many of the speakers, who were representative of the Bay View Hunters Point Communities addressed this issue. Kevin Wiliams, Espanola Jackson, Marie Harrison, Francisco Da Costa, Charlie Walker and others all explained the long history of racism involving the PUC, the Southeast Water Treatment Plant, and the problems that they have had with the staff of the Southeast Water Treatment Plant in general and Anita's case in specific. They also talked about how these problems need a thorough investigation and that the Justice Department may have to be called.

As a result of this demonstration from at united community, two commissioners, Robert J. Costello and Ryan L. Brooks, along with the Acting Manager of the PUC, were assigned to begin an investigation of the problems and issues of racism within the PUC and of the SWTP and its staff. These commissioners along with the Acting Manager are to report their findings at every PUC Board Meeting for the foreseeable future, under a special agenda point. (From now on we will not be relegated to the "public comment" point on the agenda.)

That was Tuesday. On Thursday, Anita, her daughter,Ayanna, Lonnie Butler, and I attended a ≥Skelly Hearing≤ which was called by the PUC staff to suspend Anita from work for 30 days. At this hearing, Anita made a motion that it was in the staff's best interests that the Skelly hearing be postponed, due to the fact that the Public Utilities Commission was conducting an investigation.

(During the course of helping to represent Anita Labossiere at this hearing, I was informed and surprised that Niermela Arsem, one of the people against whom Anita has filed an EEOC complaint, was actually a Vice-President of one of † Professional & Technical Engineers (IFPTE) Local 21 chapters and a "sister" in the union!

I then wrote a letter to Local 21's 'executive director," David Novogrodsky stating: "I think that I now understand why the union has been so conspicuously absent from all demonstrations and PUC meetings when this case was discussed, and why you told me, when you walked through a picket line in support of Anita's case, that 'the union has no problem with work rule 120.' It is known as Sec. 120.22 Compulsory Sick Leave, which an absent, so far unnamed, supervisor had evoked against Sister Anita. The way the rule is being interpreted in Sister Anita's case, the appointing officer or designee has the right to discriminate against any employee. It may be a 'rule,' but to me it is a rule that is in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.")

The PUC staff did not postpone the hearing. We then recessed the meeting to notify the the PUC upstairs of Anita's statement to the hearing: † "I have no other choice, but to contact the two commissioners, (Costello and Brooks) along with the Acting Manager, and † the President of the Commission, Dennis Normandy, to inform them of your decision not to postpone. And I may have to possibly call in the Department of Justice."

When the hearing reconvened, Tamara Lowery Jones, Senior Personal Analyst, for the PUC then read the PUC staff's charges against Anita. (I was astounded, that Tamara Jones, speaking for the PUC, could not even reply to the question "Does an employee have a right to file a complaint to the EEOC?" [Rights under Title VII law are supposed to be posted at every job site.])

Anita then gave the following statement to the Skelly "Hearing":

Dear sirs and/or madams:
I am enclosing several documents in writing that present my rebuttals to the charges before me.
I consider this hearing and the proposed 30 day suspension to be a further violation of my civil rights, a violation of Title VII of the civil rights act, an illegal retaliation for exercising my rights, an illegal retaliation in violation of my "whistle blower" rights, and a further violation of my rights to a safe and nonracial work environment. Or is it the opinion of my "superiors" that I do not have a right to complain to the EEOC? Or to the take necessary steps to prepare my complaint for the EEOC?
In addition, I wish to to state for the record that, since Phil Caskey was made director, my assignments/workload have been almost completely diminished, even though I have won several awards for my work during my 24 years of service to the city. This is/was a further violation of my rights to equal treatment in the workplace and an equal work environment. I have a right to carry my share of the load!
I can only assume that the management has the intent to make me redundant, so that they can easily get rid of me. And that these "kangaroo" hearings are just part of this process.
Sincerely yours,
Anita Labossiere

Given the uncompromising stance of the PUC staff, we then adjourned the meeting.

The ball is now in the court of the PUC. What they do is dependent on how the community supports Anita and supports itself. It the BVHP community stays united on this issue and keeps applying its pressure, then Anita will win her case and in addition the promises for jobs and a cleaner environment made in the past to BVHP will finally be made true.

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