Why does it matter? [Read
article] Diversity goals are set
and stated in the Austin Fire Department's business and strategic plans.
Making progress toward the stated diversity benchmarks in AFD has not
shown productive results in
over 30 years. After the consent decree in 1977 there were 52 African
American Firefighters, today in October of 2011 there are only 47. This
sends a message to the citizens of Austin that diversity is not important
or a goals of AFD. The negative image affects how AFD members are viewed
as well in the community it serves.
Diversity matters in the civilian sector.
What is diversity? What do we mean when we speak of
diversity? Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Compliance Office offers
"Diversity refers to human
qualities that are different from our own and those of groups to
which we belong; but that are manifested in other individuals and
groups. Dimensions of diversity include but are not limited to: age,
ethnicity, gender, physical abilities/qualities, race, sexual
orientation, educational background, geographic location, income,
marital status, military experience, parental status, religious
beliefs, work experience, and job classification."
Diversity as a concept focuses on a
broader set of qualities than race and gender. In the context of the
workplace, valuing diversity means creating a workplace that respects
and includes differences, recognizing the unique contributions that
individuals with many types of differences can make, and creating a work
environment that maximizes the potential of all employees.
Diversity is also about having the long
term goal that the city public safety departments should generally
reflect the population of the city it serves in all its dimensions.
Diversity is broader than affirmative
action and is voluntary (i.e., it is not "strictly necessary" to
incorporate diversity concepts in order to meet federal requirements).
Emphasizing diversity moves a department beyond considerations of only
race and gender in its efforts to achieve an inclusive work environment.
While affirmative action and equal
employment opportunity focus on employment practices, the concept of
diversity extends to the work environment, including individual
attitudes and behaviors. Yet diversity is related to affirmative action
and equal employment opportunity, as there is a direct relationship
between individual attitudes and behaviors, and employment practices.
Diversity workshops can help managers learn a variety of options to
enhance diversity, and to understand how to consistently apply fair
employment practices and procedures.
Actions that promote
diversity for a department are those that lead to a work environment
that maximizes the potential of all employees while acknowledging their
unique contributions and differences.
Why is diversity important?
When a building goes up in
flames, rational people don't care about the race of the firefighters
who drag them to safety. Competence is all that matters. That said, it
doesn't mean race should be ignored. Nor should an emphasis on
competence be an excuse for failing to take reasonable steps to increase
the number of minority firefighters.
While a raging fire knows no color, the taxpayers and residents of a
They ought to believe that they and people who look like them are a part
of the tapestry of the city. Including them in public service as
firefighters in numbers that reflect the changing face of the community
advances that reasonable goal.
Educating officers and firefighters on
how to work effectively in a diverse environment helps a department
prevent discrimination and promote inclusiveness. There is evidence that
managing a diverse work force well can contribute to increased
productivity. It can enhance the organization's responsiveness to an
increasingly diverse world of customers, improve relations with the
surrounding community, increase the organization's ability to cope with
change, and expand the creativity of the organization.
Good management of a diverse work force
can increase productivity and enhance a department's ability to maneuver
in an increasingly complex and diverse environment.
"The best person for the job"
is a phrase that is used to ignore and devalue diversity. There is
nothing wrong with wanting the best person for a job, but does that mean
that we have to ignore diversity and the importance and benefits of it?
Does that statement mean that we ignore the goals and wants of the
community we serve? Does that mean that we ignore what has been proven
to be an asset to our country and any organization that embraces
diversity? Does that mean we ignore the city's and our department's
diversity goals? The answer is no! It is possible to achieve diversity
goals while going for the best person for a job. The Reflect Initiative
does just that. It achieves diversity goals while ensuring that high
standards are met for our firefighters.
Initiative" is a suggested
step in the direction of meeting
diversity goals and what was
submitted to AFD, Local 975, and
city officials to solicit
recognition and assistance
concerning this issue in
March of 2007.
In an effort to reach the
diversity goal of AFD and the city the following
Reflect Initiative Implementation Plan has been proposed. This
proposal is an attempt to keep standards high and not discriminate
against any race. To proposal is an attempt to address the effects of
despaired impact against groups that have low numbers that apply for
employment with AFD.
We are not sure if Local 975's Executive
Board has shared this with it's members or has considered supporting the
proposal openly, but the IAFF has this to say about working with
Affinity groups like AAAFFA:
"Minority organizations within a
fire department are the greatest resource in building diversity... An
affinity organization or constituency group's goal is to promote and
support its members. It is crucial that relationships between affinity
organizations and the local be strengthened, both for mutual aid and as
a service to members. Affinity members can provide crucial advice when
creating and implementing a targeted recruitment program. Essentially,
an alliance is created where both parties assist one another towards a
The relationship of
diversity, equal employment opportunity, and affirmative action Although equal employment opportunity,
diversity, and affirmative action are all different, they are
interrelated. (See a
Diversity, EEO and AA Chart.) Each is directed toward achieving
equal opportunity in the workplace. Diversity and affirmative action
each broaden the concept of equal employment opportunity in different
ways. Diversity, equal employment opportunity, and affirmative action
together will provide a strong foundation for the Austin Fire
Department's efforts to achieve a fair and inclusive workplace.
opportunity Equal employment opportunity is the core
concept that unifies diversity and affirmative action efforts; that
everyone should have equal access to employment opportunities. The City
of Austin and the Austin Fire Department is supposed to adhere to state
and federal equal employment opportunity laws, which prohibit
discrimination based on a variety of characteristics. In addition to
race and sex, these characteristics include: color, national origin,
religion, physical or mental ability, medical condition
(cancer-related), ancestry, marital status, age, sexual orientation,
status as a covered veteran, and on the basis of citizenship.
Affirmative action Affirmative action was developed because
of the need to take "affirmative action" to begin to reverse historic
patterns of employment discrimination against minorities and women.
Federal regulations require the use of
race, ethnicity, or sex in limited circumstances, such as when analyzing
the work force to identify areas of underutilization of minorities and
women, and establishing goals in affirmative action plans on that basis.
When goals exist, the City of Austin and the Austin Fire Department
should undertake targeted recruitment efforts to ensure that
underutilized minorities and women are represented in the applicant
Fairness vs. equal
treatment Many people think that "fairness" means
"treating everyone the same." How well does treating everyone the same
work for a diverse staff? For example, when employees have limited
English language skills or reading proficiency, even though that limit
might not impair their ability to do their jobs, transmitting important
information through complicated memorandums might not be an effective
way of communicating with them. While distributing such memos to all
staff is "treating everyone the same," this approach may not communicate
essential information to everyone who receives them. It is easy to see
how a staff member who missed out on essential information might feel
that the communication process was "unfair." A similar effect takes
place when Battalion Chiefs disseminated important business information
through chiefs notes session with their own personal biased spin on it.
A communication process or technique
that takes account of the diverse opinions of various issues among the
staff might require extra time or effort to make certain that
everyone understands important information. Such efforts on the part of
supervisors and managers should be supported and rewarded as good
management practices for working with a diverse staff.
What do we want
We want what the citizens of Austin, the
city manager, and
our city council want when it comes to diversity and demographic
representation of the city in our public service departments,
specifically in the Austin Fire Department. We also want the best person
for the job in a department that is diverse and reflects the community
it serves. This is a problem that has
been present for over 30 years with very little action to address it.
Reasons for the slow progress are no doubt complex, but it's hard to
believe that minorities aren't interested in these jobs or lack the
intellect and physical ability to fight fires.
The most recent long range attempts will take another 30 years to
possibly get our numbers where they need to be. We need to stop the
self inflicted wounds we are doing to ourselves in
the fire service by ignoring diversity goals.
comes when we are in the minority; the
comes when we are in the majority".
Ralph W. Sockman
a few news article published in the Austin American Statesman regarding
Community leaders hold press
conference on 30 September 2008 to speak about the lack of diversity in
the Austin Fire Department.
Tuesday, Nov 10, 2009 @06:05pm CST
A Travis County judge found enough evidence of a hostile work environment against a female Austin firefighter to allow the case to go to trial.
An Austin firefighter
filed a discrimination
lawsuit today in state
District Court against
the City of Austin,
claiming that she was
including a place to
sit, and food in a
women’s locker room at a
station where she was
According to the
suit, Nona Allen, who is
the department’s only
firefighter, moved a
desk and chair into the
locker room so that she
would have a place to
study. The locker room
had no other furniture.
Allen, who is the
only woman assigned to
the station, then
continued to find the
desk and chair removed
from the women’s locker
The suit said male
firefighters already had
furniture in their
locker room that
cushioned chairs and
video game equipment.
“In a nutshell, I
would say that it is
pathetic that we have to
continue to deal with
this kind of conduct,”
said Derek Howard, who
is representing Allen.
complained about it… .
failed to do anything
about the complaints.”
The suit said that
the women’s locker room
also had no vending
machines, unlike the
men’s locker room, and
that Allen would
repeatedly have to ask
male firefighters to buy
snacks for her.
Acting Fire Chief Jim
Evans declined through a
spokeswoman to comment
on the pending lawsuit.
Allen has been an
Austin firefighter since
Austin firefighters are the
highest paid in the state, earning about 20
percent more than their peers in several other
big city departments in Texas. The pay and
generous benefits reflect the high regard Austin
residents have for the men and women who fight
fires, perform rescues, deal with hazardous
incidents and respond to emergencies on our
roads and highways.
The pay, which is way above
market rates, also is a result of many years of
bargaining between city officials and the Austin
Firefighters Association. The bargaining
permitted both sides to prosper.
But in bargaining negotiations
this year over a new contract, the union is
making unreasonable demands that would set the
city back financially and in its goal to build a
fire department that reflects the diversity of
the Austin community.
The union’s callousness about
strained finances might well have to do with the
fact that most firefighters — six out of 10 —
don’t live in Austin. Thus, many might be
somewhat detached from the economic realities
facing Austin taxpayers because of rising
property values and slumping sales tax revenue.
Firefighters have proposed increases in wages
and pension contributions that would cost city
taxpayers $21.5 million over three years.
Although that might not be
unreasonable during times of surplus, the city
faces a $25.3 million budget shortfall for 2009.
Spending for the city’s police, firefighters and
EMS departments eats up 65 percent of the $593
million general fund.
That can crowd out other city
services, including libraries and parks, road
maintenance and social services.
The union also seems ready to
renege on past agreements that opened the door
for more women and minorities to be
Through the bargaining process
that began more than a decade ago, firefighters
won generous salaries and benefits. In return,
the city gained more control over policies for
hiring and promoting firefighters rather than
the strict civil service approach to hiring and
promoting that relied on a written test.
Civil service tests still are
key in decisions for hiring and promotions, and
job applicants get extra points for military
experience. But other criteria have been added.
The city can, for example, use an oral interview
board, physical ability test, psychological
evaluation and drug test, as well as consider a
candidate’s foreign language skills and
In broadening the criteria,
Austin officials tried to create a fire
department that looks more like the community it
serves. The fire department is considerably more
diverse than it was in the past, though there is
room for improvement in attracting more women,
Hispanics, African Americans and Asians. The
latter groups make up about 22 percent of the
department’s 1,029 firefighters and women make
up 5 percent.
The department is facing a
significant drain of its minority firefighters
who are eligible for retirement, and it should
be pushing for greater diversity to replenish
those ranks. Stephen Truesdell, president of the
Austin Firefighters Association, said the
union’s demands are simply a starting point and
that his membership supports the city’s goals of
But Austin residents need more
than words from the union. It should honor its
past agreements and be mindful of the financial
challenges facing Austin taxpayers.
Austin firefighters group
wants academy canceled
BYLINE: Tony Plohetski AMERICAN-STATESMAN
STAFF DATE: March 28, 2007
SECTION: Metro & State
Austin's African American
firefighters association have
asked city officials to cancel a
firefighting academy scheduled
to begin in April, because the
class will have no black
City and fire officials said
Tuesday that they are
disappointed at the class's lack
of diversity but that the
academy will go on as planned.
They said the
class is necessary to fill more
than a dozen vacancies, which
are expected to increase as more
firefighters retire this year.
the frustration with recruiting,
minorities," Austin Fire Chief
J.J. Adame said. "I feel the
same sort of frustration. Our
goal is to strive for a diverse
The lack of
diversity in the upcoming class
is the latest struggle in the
department's efforts to attract
more women and minorities to a
department that has for decades
been dominated by white men.
have met challenges in recent
months: Last year, an African
American woman attending the
department's training academy
sued the city after she was
fired, claiming discrimination.
And last fall, a
recently promoted female
firefighter found human
excrement smeared on her locker
and urine in a shampoo bottle at
a Duval Road fire station.
Austin police are still
investigating that incident.
firefighters make up 78 percent
of the department, and about 6
percent are black, according to
president of the Austin
Association, said he was
disappointed to learn that no
blacks will be in the April
"Our belief is
that it doesn't go with the
direction of diversifying the
department," he said. "For us to
be the only ones not represented
in that class is disheartening."
Adame said the
class of 18, who will make up
for current vacancies, will have
one woman, two Hispanics, an
American Indian and an Asian
chosen from a roster of about
130 applicants last year based
on their physical endurance test
scores and interviews, among
hired 85 applicants last year
and sent them through an academy
that graduated in February. That
group included five African
Americans, 11 Hispanics, two
Asian Americans and three
of the next 18 people on the
list was black, Adame said.
He said that he
considered canceling the class
until the department could
create another roster this
summer but that it would cause
officials to rely on overtime to
maintain staffing levels in the
"It's a hard
one," he said. "We are
struggling to figure out what we
are going to do, but our plan
right now is to move forward."
Copyright (c) 2007 Austin
Initiative" is a suggested
step in the direction of meeting
diversity goals and what was
submitted to AFD, Local 975, and
city officials to solicit
recognition and assistance
concerning this issue.
Austin aims for fire cadet diversity
Minority numbers have long
failed to reflect the city's demographics
BYLINE: Kate Alexander, AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF DATE:
November 27, 2005
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman (TX) SECTION:
Fire Department that Ray Hendricks joined in 1979 did not much welcome
his black skin.
Hired in the
wake of a 1977 federal court order that forced the city to increase its
minority hiring, Hendricks endured racial slurs and faced frequent
isolation as the only African American in his station. Another
black firefighter was spat on, he said.
"I spent 23 1/2 years in there, and I spent 23 1/2 years on guard," said
Hendricks, who retired in 2003 and is now the pastor at Rehoboth
Primitive Baptist Church.
"It changed, but it took some time," he said. "I don't think it was
City officials say they hope to change that in the coming years with a
renewed effort to get more minorities into the department.
The time is now, Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza said, because
"we're probably 60 years behind."
Garza said the numbers for minorities and women in the Fire Department
"are just not acceptable."
Minorities make up 22 percent of the sworn personnel in the
department but 47 percent of the community.
The three-year contract just negotiated with the Austin Association of
Professional Firefighters, set for City Council approval Thursday, gives
the city the flexibility it needs to improve minority hiring, he said.
There is also a sense of urgency, because the years of inaction on
minority hiring are coming to roost.
Minority hiring plummeted after 1982, the last year of the court order
requiring that African Americans and Hispanics each make up 20
percent of the cadet class. During the six years of that federal consent
decree, the department hired 75 African Americans, including the
sole African American woman now in the department. Since the end
of the decree in 1982, 50 African Americans have entered the
Hispanics did not fare any better for many years and still are not
represented in numbers that reflect the community population. Indeed,
Hispanics represent 15 percent of the department but 31 percent of the
But Hispanic hiring has seen marked increases in the three classes since
2000. Not so with African Americans, who make up less than 6
percent of the department and 10 percent of Austin. The situation could
rapidly get worse, because about half the 57 African Americans in
the department will be eligible for retirement next year.
"We have no one coming in but a lot of people leaving," said Lt.
Richard Davis, a 13-year veteran of the department and vice president of
the Austin African-American Firefighters Association.
"When your numbers get smaller, your voice gets weaker and eventually
goes silent," Davis said.
Association President BobbyJohns said his members are
looking to Garza, City Manager Toby Futrell and the yet-unnamed new fire
chief to right the years of wrongs.
"Now that they have the ball in their court . . . will they do the right
thing?" Johns asked.
Garza said the city leadership is wholly committed to improving
diversity in the department, and the hiring goal next year is to have
the cadet class proportionally reflect the community. Hispanics make up
31 percent of the city, African Americans 10 percent and Asians 5
percent. Caucasians and other races round out the rest of the community.
"Anything less than that would not be fully successful," Garza said.
Improving diversity has also been a major goal in years of contract
negotiations with the police union. Thirty percent of the police
department personnel are minorities.
The only way to improve diversity in the fire department is to hire a
more diverse cadet class. To do so, the city will rely upon a stable of
tools it won in the new contract, the first negotiated since voters
approved collective bargaining rights for the firefighters in 2004.
Those tools allow the city to deviate from the civil service rules
that have dictated the hiring and promotion of firefighters since 1947.
Civil service rules, intended to remove politics and favoritism from the
process, made a written test the primary method of evaluating a
candidate. The new hiring process could put less weight on the written
exam and more on an oral examination. The city now has more discretion
to determine who moves on to later rounds of testing.
These are high-stakes tests. Competition can be fierce for the limited
spots in the cadet class, with more than 2,000 people typically taking
the test for fewer than 100 spots in each class. The few who make it
through enter a promising career, with an entry-level firefighter making
For minority firefighters who have felt that process technicalities
have long been used to keep them out of the department, the hiring
changes are welcome, but firefighters say they must be used appro-
"If you can't get in the front door, how can you populate the station?"
said firefighter Ed Bridges, a former president of the African
American firefighters association.
The contract also allows the appointment of up to nine assistant and
division chiefs, the two ranks below chief. In practice, though, only
two to three appointments will be made during the life of the contract.
The city made the appointment authority a key element of its bargaining
position because it is a way to increase diversity in the department's
Union President Mike Martinez, who was the only other minority in
Richard Davis' cadet class in 1992, agrees that the department must
foster diversity but said appointments are a quick fix rather than the
needed institutional change.
"It appears only to be for diversity reasons and not for vision and
goals and structural reasons in the department," Martinez said. "It
causes a backlash."
Instead, the department needs to combat the perception that firefighting
is not a job for minorities and introduce the profession to minorities
at a young age. Many firefighters, including Martinez, discovered
firefighting through their families. His uncle, Paul Maldonado, retired
as an AFD assistant chief and is the Texas state fire marshal.
Martinez suggested creating an academy in one of the Austin high
schools that would train potential firefighters in the fundamentals of
the profession. Garza said that idea is being considered by school
The academy would tap a natural pool of local applicants and get more
minorities to apply and take the test, a strategy likely to translate
into higher hiring numbers, he said.
To get more minorities to show up, the department in the past has
done outreach in communities with large minority populations, such as
Houston, Detroit and South Texas. But for now the short-term plan is to
deepen relationships with community leaders in churches, schools and
civic groups that serve the minority communities and can guide young
people to the profession, Assistant Chief Florencio Soliz said.
The department wants to communicate the message that firefighting is a
great job and career, Garza said.
One church leader the department may be reaching out to is Hendricks,
who said he would recommend the job with the Austin Fire Department to a
young member of his church.
"But I would not send them in there blind," Hendricks said. He would add
the message, "You can make it because I did."
DATE: October 23,
1999 PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman (TX) EDITION: Final
Does fire department reflect city's
The first African American firefighters in the state were hired by the
City of Austin in September 1952. There were three of us. I stayed with
the department, advanced to the rank of captain and retired after 30
years. During my tenure, more minorities and women were hired. When I
retired, there were 44 African American firefighters -- 43 men and one
woman. It is now 1999 and 16 years after I retired, there are just 49
African American men and still only one African American female
firefighter. Sadly, that averages to hiring one African American a year
since I started in 1952. The participation of African Americans in the
fire department is stagnant, if not regressing. According to city
figures, African Americans are 5 percent of the 950-member force.
Hispanics in the department number 108 or 11 percent; Females are 2
percent of the force at 24 and the 5 Asians in the department are less
than 1 percent of the force. Collectively, minorities make up only 20
percent of the AFD force. Does that number present the face of
W.R. ``RAY'' DAVIS Austin
International Association of Professional
Meet & Confer / Collective Bargaining
In the 90's firefighters were looking for
a certain level of monetary recognition in the city of Austin Fire
Department. While looking for raises we feel that we did not look at the
big picture. When meet and confer was implemented in the city of Austin
we did not know the negative impact it would have on negotiations for
diversity in the city. We also feel that while using diversity as a
negotiating tool to hold the city hostage is unacceptable, especially
when it is not proven that the negotiations will produce the goal of
diversity in our city. Our President at the time during negotiations,
Bobby Johns, always stated that a report card should be negotiated into
the contract which will put the impetus on our Local the negotiating
entity for the firefighters in AFD) and also on the city to work
together in accomplishing diversity in the city, because once the
contract with the city is completed there is nothing done by the local
to assure diversity take place. However there are things done to tear
apart and grieve every step in the hiring process which they negotiated
for. In short we have not accomplished the goals of diversity that our
city government, some African American firefighters and other minority
groups within the AFD, and a large portion of the Austin community have
been waiting for so long. In that respect, we are not a proponent of
meet and confer or collective bargaining. Our numbers after 54 years
still only equal to approximately five percent of our work force.