BERKELEY -- It didn't happen as swiftly as the local NAACP chapter would have liked, but city administrators have now taken initial steps to respond to city employee allegations of racial discrimination in hiring, promoting, reassigning and firing workers.

In a Sept. 8 memo to the City Council, City Manager Christine Daniel said the city would contract with Mason Tillman Associates of Oakland to evaluate city worker claims.

"While the city has a long history of actively supporting inclusion and diversity, it is also a fact that racial inequalities are a significant part of American culture and Berkeley is not exempt," Daniel wrote in the memo.

In addition to claims of discrimination in city employment practices, the NAACP -- along with ACLU Berkeley North East Bay, African American/Black Professionals and Community Network, Coalition for a Safe Berkeley, SEIU 1021 Berkeley Maintenance Chapter and the city's Peace and Justice Commission -- contend there is also discrimination here against African-Americans and Latinos in policing, education, housing and health care delivery.

The organizations held a town hall-style meeting in July to detail community concerns and in August issued a report that includes demands for change in each problem area.


Advertisement

The signing of the Mason Tillman contract is one step toward addressing discrimination in Berkeley, said Mansour Id-Deen, president of the Berkeley NAACP. "We are pleased that the contract is moving forward. It had been stalled for far too long; it was concerning to us that nothing was happening."

Complaints of discrimination against city workers are not new in Berkeley. In December 2012, the NAACP described the problem in a letter to Mayor Tom Bates: "The staff we spoke with believe people in positions of power in the city of Berkeley are manipulating the hiring, promotional and job reclassification process in order to unfairly hire, retain or promote friends and individuals of their choosing."

The city began negotiating the Mason Tillman contract in March, but the contract stalled over the question of whether city staff would be able to speak to the consultants without disclosing their identity publicly, Id-Deen said.

"Mason Tillman and Associates was adamant about the anonymity issue," he said. "In order for them to have an open discussion with individuals that are still working for the city they felt that they had to have anonymity for those people. We felt the same way and the city finally agreed to it."

Id-Deen said he'd like the City Council to take a more hands-on approach to the question of discrimination in Berkeley.

Councilman Kriss Worthington, who spoke at the July meeting, said he agreed, but noted one difficulty is that the administration does not provide the council with the information it needs to evaluate city worker complaints.

"We've seen no (recent) statistics of any kind," he said. "The lack of information is a giant red flag. The City Council is being kept in the dark. How many cases do we have going through the (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)? Nobody has told us. How many people are being shifted around and reassigned?"

The Mason Tillman contract focuses on a small part of a spectrum of issues the NAACP wants the city to address, Id-Deen said.

The organization and its partners will be working with most of the city's boards and commissions to address questions such as frequent police stops of African-American males -- and the lack of data around these stops -- the lack of affordable housing in Berkeley that is causing a decrease in the African-American population, cultural insensitivity in the areas of health care and mental health, outsourcing city jobs to private companies, and the achievement gap in education.

The chapter expects the commissions will then work on policies in each of the areas to submit to the City Council for approval.

The NAACP will hold a follow-up town hall meeting in December to report to the community on its progress in these areas.

"Our concern clearly is fairness," Id-Deen said. "Everyone needs to play by the same rules. If we can get that, we will be satisfied."

The city manager's office declined to comment for this story.