Elected officials, union advocates call for audit of municipal employment practices

Councillor Julia Mejia called for the press conference in City Hall on Wednesday, June 5, to press Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration to perform an audit of municipal hiring, firing, and promotional practices. Using city information, Mejia allegedly found disparities in hiring people of color, and especially promoting them.

Larry Ellison, retired BPD detective and past president of MAMLEO.

A unified group of elected officials of color, union advocates, and civil rights attorneys rallied beside Councillor Julia Mejia on Wednesday morning in calling for an audit of the city’s hiring, firing, discipline, and promotional processes – noting that while gains in employment have been made, those at the top still aren’t reflective of the city’s demographics, which have been majority-minority since 2011.

Later in the day, Mayor Michelle Wu’s office pushed back on the narrative presented at the press conference and said they have removed barriers to diverse hiring that have been in place for generations. They mayor did not commit to doing the requested audit though.

“Under (my) leadership, the City workforce at every level—from the Cabinet to frontline staff—is the most diverse in the City’s history,” said Mayor Wu in a statement. “We continually work to set and exceed high standards for excellence in delivering City services by putting the people who know our communities best around every table. There is more work ahead, and we will accelerate these strides in the years ahead, already having created new pipelines into public safety jobs, transportation, early education, climate jobs, and public works, as well as partnerships to ensure key sectors in the private sector are creating opportunities for Boston’s community members as well.”

The press conference in City Hall outside the Council Chambers followed a hearing called for by Mejia regarding information on the hiring, firing, and promotional practices across all City of Boston departments – including the Boston Police and Boston Fire Departments.

Using information gathered directly from the City of Boston employee database using its data dashboard system, Mejia said they found that white employees make up 57.5 percent of the total municipal workforce and 53 percent of the top earners across the board.

“This is a call to action for our City departments, including the Boston Police Department, the Boston Fire Department, the Boston Public Schools, the Boston Public Library and all City departments to give equal opportunity and stop discriminatory practices that prevent employees of color from moving on up,” said Mejia.

Specifically, she cited that Boston Public Libraries (BPL), the Office of Housing, Public Works Department and Office of the Environment had more than 40 percent of the workforce as people of color, but people of color held 12 to 30 percent of leadership positions.

In the Office of Historic Preservation, and the Law Department, only 7-21 percent of the workforce were people of color.

“That is atrocious,” she said.

The Mayor’s Office provided defense of the current efforts, including describing new hiring strategies such as “Hire Days,” where qualified candidates can be hired on the spot, or on a fast-track. For instance, they cited a Hiring Day for the hard-to-fill 9-1-1 Call Taker positions where, last October, 11 hires were made, now becoming a model for future hiring in the department.

They also noted that overall hiring of Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) has increased for new employees, going from 49 percent in 2020 to 67 percent thus far into 2024. In the Boston Police, the Mayor’s Office cited that the overall percentage of BIPOC officers has grown from 36 percent in April 2021, to 41 percent in 2024 (an increase of 158 officers).

In total, the Mayor’s Office provided statistics that showed in 2023 there had been 889 new hires, with 352 of them women, and 548 people of color. There were 341 white persons hired (38 percent).

At the press conference, standing in solidarity with the “call to action” were Council President Ruthzee Louijeune, Councillor at-Large Henry Santana, State Rep. Russell Holmes, State Rep. Brandy Fluker Oakley, and State Rep. Bud Williams (of Springfield). Key in pushing the process on the employee side were the Boston Society of Vulcans (Firefighters), the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers (MAMLEO), and the Boston Teacher’s Union (BTU).

Employees of color in the Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC) and the Public Works Department (PWD) were some of the first, Mejia said, to call out the problem to her office and push for the May 29 hearing.

However, it was MAMLEO Past President Larry Ellison whose words were the most cutting on Wednesday when it came to promotions and hiring within the Boston Police Department (BPD) – calling out Commissioner Michael Cox, who is Black.

Ellison, a retired Boston Police detective, told the story of Sgt. Horatio Homer, who became first African American BPD officer in 1874. He was promoted to sergeant in 1895, but the reality was he was never allowed to go out on patrol and only to sit at a desk outside the police commissioner’s door, said Ellison.

“He wasn’t allowed to be out on the street and could only sit by the commissioner’s door,” said Ellison. “Today we have a commissioner that looks like Sgt. Homer but who in my opinion is not making the right decisions when it comes to the (police) promotional exams. If Sgt. Homer were around today, we might ask him, ‘Have we really made any progress or are we still sitting outside that (commissioner’s) door.'”

Sophia Hall, deputy litigation director for Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR), said they have fought the city’s hiring, firing, and promotional practices for years on end – often, she said, resulting in protracted legal costs and costly legal settlements funded by taxpayers.

“This is not a new fight; we have had the same concerns year after year,” she said.

She called for the city to stop promotional evaluations based on exams, and to stop closed-door “huddles” that discussed who to promote into leadership positions. She also called for the new Boston Fire Cadet program to be utilized as a pipeline and not just a showpiece.

“We should know the rules…so we can ask questions and engage appropriately,” she said.
“If you want to do diversity as more than window dressing, you have to do the job,” she cautioned.

LCR Speaker Online.png
Sophia Hall, deputy litigation director at Lawyers for Civil Rights.

BTU members spoke and noted that an order under late Judge Arthur Garrity in the school desegregation, or busing, case in the 1970s called for 25 percent of teachers hired by BPS had to be Black. The order stated that once that happened, it would be lifted.

“That was 50 years ago as of June 1, 2024, and that order has not been disengaged,” said Edith Bazile.
State Rep. Russell Holmes, of Mattapan, supported the call fully, he said.

“We are a majority city of color and that should be easily reflected in all that we do, and that kind of change should be systemic,” he said. “I or anyone else shouldn’t have to call the mayor or anyone and ask for the hook-up.”

Mejia said her office has filed two 17F information requests that were to be moved at the Council meeting today, June 5. The requests ask for names of police officers that will be taking the promotional exams in 2024, and how much money the City has spent on lawsuits in the last five years – to include fees for outside legal counsel and legal settlement costs.

“It is our duty as a City Council to guarantee (municipal) hiring, firing, and promotional processes are free from discriminatory practices,” she concluded.


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