Federal court strikes down minority recruitment decree for CFD

A federal judge recently agreed to dissolve a 42-year court mandate on minority recruitment within the Chicago Fire Department, finding that minority representation had increased significantly since its implementation in the early 1980s.

While federal officials saw an increase in “minority” staff, some current and retired black firefighters cried that their manpower numbers were dwindling due to slow recruitment of black recruits and high black retirements among its commanding officers.

Last Thursday, Chief Justice Rebecca Palmyer of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois approved a joint request between federal prosecutors and city attorneys overseeing the long-running Albrecht decree, which was replaced by former Commissioner Richard Albrecht. The decree of March 1980 was abolished in the name of

“This Court finds that since the entry into force of the Albrecht Decree there has been a substantial increase in minority representation in every campaigner rank of the City of Chicago Fire Department,” Palmier wrote in a short ruling.

“The Court also found that the City of Chicago has made good efforts to comply with the decree, and that the dissolution of the decree will not limit or impede future challenges to alleged employment discrimination in the CFD.”

The ruling ends the decree that focused on minority recruitment to ranking positions. Pallmayer’s decision comes six days after prosecutors filed an 18-page motion seeking dissolution, pointing to increased minority representation and cooperation with the fire department. The city soon joined in on the proposal. Officials said they used an outside consultant “as needed” to provide expertise in reviewing technical materials provided by the city.

Federal officials argued that the dissolution of Albrecht would not reduce the city’s obligations to provide equal employment opportunities under Congress’s discrimination protection called Title VII.

In a statement to the Tribune, the city’s law department commended the decree’s end. “The quashing of the decree will enable the city to efficiently retire the existing eligibility lists and rapidly adopt new lists, when appropriate. The city is committed to continuous progress.” The Chicago Fire Department did not respond to a request for comment.

A spokeswoman for the US attorney for the Northern District of Illinois referred the comments to the DC-based Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, which handled the case, but a DOJ spokesperson declined to comment.

The ruling came as bitter news for black retirees who have long weighed a system against minority firefighters, particularly African-Americans, whose numbers have fallen in some ranks.

In April, an analysis of fire department personnel records by the Tribune found that black firefighters had slipped to third place with 4,800 uniformed members in the department with only 422, or about 15%. This was a drop of 16.5 percent in 2016. Firefighter-EMT is the most common rank in the department. Hispanic firefighters, who accounted for 13.5% of firefighters in 2016, are now the second largest group with 18%.

“Oh my god,” Ezra McCann, a retired Black Fire captain, said Tuesday after hearing that the decree was dissolved. McCann, who joined the department in 1977, dismissed the government’s findings, saying he had not interviewed or spoken to any black members who had long supported the cause of increased black hiring and promotions. has done. “It’s a bad move.”

McCann is among several outspoken Black retirees who keep a close eye on the number of Black recruits in each Fire Academy class. He has called the department’s hiring moves window dressing, claiming that the department has kept some blacks in key positions while keeping the number of rank-and-file black personnel down. He has also said that recruitment is tilted towards applicants from politically influential wards.

“Right now we have a black female fire commissioner. A lot of their support in the top echelons is black,” McCann said. “When people see this, they say ‘Hey man, the fire department is doing well.’ But when you look at the entry level, our numbers have never been where we can say that we are fair players in this game.

The news was particularly troubling for James Winbush, a retired Black fire captain and founding member of the League of African-American Firefighters and Paramedics of Chicago, who had been the vocal voice for increased recruitment since 1967. October 1967, there were only 225 black and five Hispanic in the department,” he said. He accused the mayor’s office and other black elected officials of not supporting the fight to bring more black firefighters into the department.

“If your highest elected official, who is also African-American, won’t defend you … and they take away your security from the federal government – what can we do when the leadership leaves us?” Vinbush asked.

Both McCann and Winbush complained that the number of black recruits in each Fire Academy class generally lags behind white and Hispanic candidates. In the past, the fire department has acknowledged the trouble with recruiting black candidates and pointed to public pressure for younger candidates.

While the department is far more diverse than at any time in its past, black firefighters complained that their numbers rank among the most common in the department and that new hires could not keep pace with the retirement numbers of high-ranking black personnel.

According to numbers cited by prosecutors for the DOJ’s Employment Litigation Section, minority representation among battalion major ranks increased from 2% in 1980 to about 26% by 2020. Similarly, Captains increased from 5% to about 28%, Lieutenants increased from about 6% to 26% and Engineers from 8.5% to 29%.

The government proposal used dated personnel material in evaluating the effectiveness of the city’s diversity push.

For example, the memo cites 30 Black battalion chiefs in the department in 2020. But as of February 28, 2022, there were only 14, according to numbers given to the Tribune via an open records request. In another example, the memo cited a 2017 number that listed 42 Black Fire captains, but a February total of 12 – 10 captain-EMTs and two captain-paramedics.

This decree was the result of a 1980 lawsuit filed by the federal government, challenging the promotional practices of CFDs. On March 31, 1980, Federal Judge Frank McGarr entered a decree that called for the city to “promote a sufficient number of black and Hispanic individuals to substantially increase the minority composition in each campaigner’s rank” and each To make the rank more representative. ,

In 1973, the federal government found that the fire department under former commissioner Robert Quinn had engaged in illegal hiring and promotion practices against African Americans and Hispanics, a combined number of less than 5% of both.

Winbush, a third-generation firefighter, said the fighting was on, although the direction was unknown. He can easily remember the old days, when racial slurs were written on his locker. But he said he and others will continue to inspire residents of black neighborhoods to join the department.

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Apart from the inherent prestige that comes with being a firefighter, it is also one of the most lucrative of all the service jobs in the city.

“The job is a permanent job. You have to fire yourself out of the fire department,” said Winbush, who retired in 1998. “Since the firefighters’ strike of 1980, the gains have been incredible. overtime benefits. admitted to hospital. Pension. retirement. all this. This is absolutely the best job I ever knew or ever had. This is the world’s best kept secret. Chicago Fire Department. ,

wlee@chicagotribune.com

Twitter@midnoircowboy

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