Berkeley city staff are reviewing a report by Oakland-based firm Mason Tillman Associates that recommends changes in city policies in response to allegations of racism in employment practices.
The Berkeley NAACP report cited “many” complaints, dating from the 1980s through 2013, by Berkeley city employees of color alleging “unfair hiring and promotional practices, favoritism, cronyism and unfair treatment of African Americans.” The NAACP recommended 21 policy changes to fight the problem, including the institution of a city oversight body to monitor discrimination and 16 hours per year of mandatory cultural competency training for all city employees.
In September 2013 the city announced it would retain Mason Tillman, an independent public policy research firm, to investigate the complaints and recommend changes.
Mason Tillman conducted interviews with 20 city employees, all people of color, who had reached out to the NAACP about perceived discriminatory practices. The report did not “investigate or verify” any of the interviewee’s statements, but recommended changes of policy to combat the perceived problem.
The contract with Mason Tillman cost the city $30,000. The firm was originally contracted only until March 1, but the city extended the contract through Sept. 30 in February.
The report recommends a five-part policy change:
1) Department audits: The interviewed employees lacked confidence in the city’s Human Resources Department. The report recommends an audit of the department to ensure “strict adherence to equal employment opportunity rules, protection from retaliation for complainants… [and] personnel policies and procedures.” Following this audit, the report recommends stricter departmental oversight, holding it responsible for preventing discrimination within other departments.
2) Reporting of applicant flow, employee turnover, employee training, and Equal Employment Opportunity complaints: The report recommends that the city establish more stringent reporting requirements. It calls for required reports of applicant demographics, employee turnover, employee complaints and employee training.
3) Survey and focus groups addressing grievance process and retaliation: A survey of all current employees should be taken to explore the perceived need for reparations due to past discrimination. Additionally a consultant should be retained to investigate the backlog of complaints from the last five years.
4) Revisions of personnel rules: Personnel rules should be amended to establish that the workplace is an area free from “discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, age, political affiliation, medical condition, disability, veteran status, marital status, or sexual orientation.”
5) Improvements to the city’s communication methods: A number of interviewees cited situations where they were not notified of a job opening until it had already been filled. The report calls for an amendment to the personnel rules establishing a clear system to announce openings to make the promotion and hiring process more transparent.
The president of the Berkeley NAACP, Mansour Id-Deen, said that though he thinks the report was a good start, the investigation is not complete.
“The budget that was allocated for the investigation was very limited, so that’s what we got,” he said. “We’re hoping that the city extends the services of Mason Tillman Associates to perform a fuller investigation of these allegations.”
He added that “there will be actions coming from the NAACP.”
According to a May 16 memo about the report by Berkeley City Manager Christine Daniel, city staff will review and analyze the report, and discuss its recommendations with a range of stakeholder groups, including the city’s personnel board and local labor unions. Staff plan to discuss the recommendations and findings with the Berkeley NAACP, and provide a report to council once these steps are complete.
Berkeley city spokesman Matthai Chakko said that, because the report is still under review, a statement by the city would be “premature.”
Charles Siler is a summer intern at Berkeleyside. He grew up in the North Bay and now attends Tulane University in New Orleans.
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