Group: Markell must take ‘corrective action’ to end widespread racism in state government
A coalition of black pastors and NAACP members took to Dover Tuesday to demand Gov. Jack Markell describe in detail how he will enforce what he calls the state’s “zero-tolerance” policy towards racism.
Members of the Committee on Racism in State Government and a group of about 70 people gathered outside Legislative Hall, saying there is widespread racism in state government, based upon interviews with employees held during a months-long inquiry into allegations of workplace discrimination. Committee members zeroed in on workplace strife at the Department of Labor and gave Markell a list of supervisors from the agency they say should be fired earlier this year, they said
“A nod of his head is not enough,” said the Rev. Vincent Oliver, pastor of the New Calvary Baptist Church in Wilmington. “A visible presence and saying ‘we’re with you’ is not enough.”
In November, state investigators from the Office of Management and Budget found a lack of professionalism and cultural insensitivity among staff at the Labor Department. The agency includes the Office of Anti-Discrimination, which investigates charges of bias.
State law prohibits employee discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, marital status or genetic information.
Markell spokesman Jonathan Dworkin said the governor has taken a number of steps in response to issues brought by the coalition. He pointed to a letter sent to the Rev. Silvester Beaman, pastor of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, from the governor’s office on Feb. 29, which said the state has addressed concerns about the process that employees must follow to submit a complaint, and is working to hire a consultant to assess human resources practices. The governor’s office can not disclose whether any supervisors will be fired, the letter said.
“For complaints about specific (Department of Labor) employees, we have reviewed those complaints and, when appropriate, ensured that remedial action had been taken,” said the letter, written by Drewry Fennell, Markell’s deputy chief of staff.
Tuesday’s protest was also intended to encourage state workers in Kent and Sussex counties to speak out if they have faced discrimination at their jobs, said Alicia Clark, a spokeswoman for the group. Employees downstate are sometimes more reticent about stating grievances, she said, and Tuesday’s demonstration could embolden them.
“We need to demonstrate to workers in Kent and Sussex that we’re not going away,” Clark said before the event.
The committee in December presented a report to Markell regarding alleged bias within state agencies. It was the product of an investigation launched this summer by the organization, which held nine closed-door hearings across Delaware where state workers could discuss racist acts encountered in offices. About 100 workers from various agencies testified, and 50 provided testimony in private, according to the organization.
The News Journal in a series of stories detailed the efforts, but were not allowed into the meetings to hear testimony from workers.
Markell met with committee members in January, and a week later, Delaware Labor Secretary John McMahon announced he was retiring. Markell nominated Patrice Gilliam-Johnson, a human resources expert and the daughter of late civil rights leader Jim Gilliam Sr., as his replacement.
Gilliam-Johnson said in a February email to Labor Department employees that new recruitment, hiring and grievance procedures are underway.
Source: Delaware News Journal | Karl Baker