New Jersey attorney general sues Iron Workers’ chapter for discrimination

Dive Brief:

  • New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin has sued an Iron Workers’ union chapter for alleged sex, race and sexual orientation discrimination that blocked Black and women workers from lucrative trade jobs, according to court documents. 
  • The suit, filed June 24 in New Jersey’s Superior Court in Essex County, claims that Iron Workers Local 11, based in Bloomfield, skipped over Black workers who signed its job referral book first in favor of non-Black members who signed it later. It seeks an injunction against the chapter to prohibit it from engaging in the alleged practices, as well as monetary damages. 
  • The complaint, filed jointly with the state’s Division of Civil Rights, also alleges that the union maintained a hostile work environment where “male, non-Black co-workers” called a Black woman worker a racial slur, locked her in a bathroom for hours and smacked her buttocks. The suit provides graphic details around claims that another worker found homophobic, pornographic materials taped to his work computer and that a supervisor used a derogatory term to refer to women.

Dive Insight:

Representatives at Iron Workers Local 11 and at the headquarters of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond to requests for comment by Construction Dive, a sister publication to HR Dive.

The complaint alleges that Local 11 maintained a referral book in its union hall to give out job assignments to members in the order they signed up, but that it regularly skipped over Black union members in favor of others. 

The suit came about after DCR investigated a complaint against the chapter filed by a former woman ironworker who is Black. In September 2022, the probe found probable cause that a hostile work environment existed at Local 11, as well as evidence of retaliation against the worker for raising the complaints.  

According to the New Jersey Globe, Local 11 removed its leadership, including the business manager named in the complaint, two months prior to DCR announcing the findings of its investigation. 

Former New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney, a one-time ironworker who is currently running for governor of the state, was tapped to administer the chapter in the fallout, according to the news outlet. He is currently listed at the top of Local 11’s leadership page. His campaign office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Construction has been trying to shed its reputation of an exclusionary, White-guys only industry. Industry leaders launched Construction Inclusion Week following George Floyd’s murder in 2020, as nooses appearing at construction sites across North America gained media attention. 

Despite those efforts, allegations of discrimination and lawsuits continue to emerge. Last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has identified construction as an industry of concern for discrimination, issued an anti-harassment guide for contractors to help promote a more inclusive environment at jobsites.