News Feature | January 17, 2018

Chicago Water Employees Describe Racist, Sexist Workplace

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

chicago reg new

Chicago water department employees say racism persists at their workplace despite city efforts to rectify the problem over the past eight months.

“The effects of retaliation for speaking out still linger, nasty epithets still get hurled, and minorities and women continue to get passed over for promotions, water department employees testified at a city council committee hearing. The workers also said they’re being given jobs with fewer opportunities for overtime and being disciplined for infractions white men often get away with,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Water Commissioner Randy Conner after the revelation of racist, sexist, and homophobic emails in the water department triggered the firing of the previous commissioner, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

At the city council hearing this month, workers described a workplace where racism persists.

“Among those testifying were John Ware, a nearly 24-year water department employee who’s now a hoisting engineering foreman. Ware, who is black, contended at the hearing that he was transferred to a post with less overtime after filing complaints about an attempt to replace him in his better post with a less-experienced white man. Ware, who filed a federal lawsuit against the city in November, said he also was wrongfully suspended for 29 days after Conner took over based on a five-minute hearing for making the complaint,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

Commissioner Conner, who is African-American, discussed his efforts to change the culture of the workplace.

“Conner said he has implemented a new training regimen designed to let department workers know that racism, sexism and homophobia will not be tolerated. He said he has made efforts to ensure assignments, overtime and promotions are awarded fairly,” the Tribune reported.

Several days after the hearing, Mayor Rahm Emanuel defended Conner’s efforts so far.

“You cannot judge him on culture because the culture of that department has been around for decades. But as it relates to the rules, he’s been very clear,” the mayor said, per the Sun-Times.

A city probe uncovered scandalous emails “circulating in the Department of Water Management while investigating allegations that the son of a former alderman had used his city email account to sell guns,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported in May. The emails contained racist and sexist content, according to The Chicago Tribune.

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Labor Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Lake Michigan in November," johnpickenphoto © 2006, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: