This originally appeared in the Chicago Defender on April 4, 2018
By: Roz Edward
Black employees at the Chicago Department of Water Management are subjected to systematic racism and sexism, a pattern that an inspector general said has been going on for decades, according to a new report.
The beleaguered department had been inundated with complaints that African-American workers were discriminated against and harassed, with one Water Department employee at the eye of the storm for racist, aggressive behavior. The employee remains on the job despite allegations of hate, according to an investigation by Project Six, a nonprofit dedicated to “investigating, exposing and ending government corruption in Chicago and across Illinois.”
Workers of color were intimidated with “small knives, racist signs and copies of Mein Kampf,” Adolf Hitler’s autobiography, the project report said. False complaints were also made against them in retaliation for speaking out about the verbal and physical harassment. In addition, reports of misconduct went unaddressed for years.
“The Water Department plays a critical role for Chicago; it literally impacts the physical health of Chicagoans every single day,” Faisal Khan, Project Six CEO, said. “This investigation shows a lack of professional responsibility from all levels of supervision at the Water Department. Complaints were ignored over and over again by city leaders about a culture of homophobia, sexism, racism and outright abusive conduct by employees within the department over many, many years.”
The scandal hit the fan when an inspector general’s report and news stories exposed the gross misconduct, forcing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to call for the resignations of several higher-ups mid-last year. A water department employee referenced in Project Six’s report, who was not identified, was fired during the shake-up but was reinstated after an arbitration trial.
An unnamed chemist at the city’s Jardine and Sawyer Water Purification plants was identified as the water department employee in question, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. He was accused of writing the word “Judas” on a Black co-worker’s calendar who tried to report the alleged harassment and even urinating in a worker’s coffee cup, among other things.
The water department has promised to make reforms, but questions still remain as to why the poisonous culture targeting employees of color was allowed in the first place. Project Six agreed with the Chicago Progressive Reform Caucus’ “call for a complete, independent investigation.”