WHAT CHELIOTES JUST SHOWED ALL UNION LEADERS
Arthur Cheliotes is the President of Local 1180 of the Communications Workers of America (CWA). It is an unusual union local because 1180 represents over 1,000 managers working for New York City. The City’s labor law allows that. We want to recognize him for doing something not all leaders do. He looked around his unit and saw that minorities and women—and especially minority women—were paid substantially less than their male white counterparts. At that point, he decided to stick with his core values against discrimination, file a class action charge, and keep his fingers crossed that more evidence developed. He did not demand irrefutable proof up front that the law had been violated or focus on the fact that the union “might” lose the case or even try to trade his potential case for an immediate tangible favor. He was paid to be the employees’ advocate and he began advocating.
When the mayor at the time brushed off his charges, Cheliotes filed a formal complaint with EEOC based solely on some superficial statistics he had showing discrimination. But he had something else going for him. He also saw that the city was fighting very hard to avoid releasing all the data so that a scientific calculation could be made about whether the statistics showed discrimination. Like any savvy union advocate, he knew that if management was working that hard to keep the data from his union that there must be serious problems.
As happens so often in cases like this, management went too far with its refusal to release all the data. When the EEOC also asked for the data, management stiff-armed it as well. BIG MISTAKE, but not uncommon. EEOC decided, “Because the respondent (NY City) has been afforded an opportunity to provide an appropriate response to the charge of discrimination and has failed to do so, the Commission determines that the silence is an admission of the allegations in the charge.”
The City has apparently agreed to submit the case to arbitration latter this year for a final determination of whether it has illegally discriminated by paying women and minorities less—and if it did how much it owes them. The media is reporting that the back pay could be as much as $250 million.
When you read over the details of the case you can see that Cheliotes could have backed away from the case when a new mayor was elected. The new one is a strong worker advocate who also detests discrimination. Backing off the union’s case might have earned Local 1180 and Cheliotes a little good will with the mayor and maybe a more tangible favor or two. But Cheliotes did what we hope all union leaders will do. He knew he was the only one who could advocate on behalf of his harmed members and he advocated the hell out of the facts. Some will say that he got lucky when the city refused to release data, but long time union reps know that the harder management fights to keep something away from the union the more damaging it is likely to be for management in litigation, in the media, and in the court of public opinion.
Thanks for making us all look good President Cheliotes and giving organized labor one more reason to understand the value of combining our normal representational tools with a strong anti-discrimination bias.