A small, ad hoc group of trades workers, custodians, and graduate student workers at University of Washington (where I work as a research assistant) has formed to fight the firing of a black maintenance supervisor who was whistleblowing on a fellow supervisor who had retaliated against a worker of color who filed a discrimination claim. All of us worked together previously in custodian struggles against forced shift changes and other abusive practices, in agitating for rank-and-file power in the graduate student workers’ union, and in coalition against budget cuts more broadly at UW. Our current campaign reminds us that some of the fruits of past organizing, agitating, and outreach show up again months or years down the road.
More recently, some of us have come together for a fast, successful fight to stop UW from firing a custodian who had been involved in past struggles. After winning this fight, we came together to prevent management from firing Rodney White, a supervisor who has a long record of fighting racist practices at UW. Part of upper management’s strategy at UW has been to repress not only workers who organize, but also supervisors who, like White, support workers’ struggles or are even just lenient towards workers they supervise.
This Thursday we will be rallying for management to reinstate Rodney White.
In early April a group of us delivered a letter to UW president Mike Young demanding Rodney White’s reinstatement as well as an end to the practice he got in trouble for whistleblowing. We went after Mike Young because management’s primary stated reasoning for firing White was because he had written a letter to Young about a fellow supervisor’s practices, practices that we consider to be racist.
Below is the letter that we delivered to Mike Young, written by a tradesworker and signed by a large cross-sector group of UW workers. We wrote and delivered this while White was on leave pending a hearing, before management fired him.
Open Letter To President Young Concerning Rodney White Being Put On Paid Leave
On April 19,2011 a shop steward for WFSE local 1488 ,Paula Lukaszek, and Trung Ngo a
maintenance mechanic 1 from shop 54 Facility Services met with Facilty Services Director RicK Cheney. They discussed the harassment and discrimination that Trung felt he was experiencing from his supervisor in shop 54. After listening to Trung’s documentation, Mr Cheney said he would start an investigation . Unfortunately, four days later Trung was killed in an auto accident. Afterwards, employees urged his shop steward to pursue the investigation.
May 19, 2011, Mr. Cheney said that it was not feasible to complete an investigation if the
person alleging the behavior is not available to be interviewed any longer.
In June 2011 Rodney White, a supervisor for shop 53 Facility Services was approached by members of the Asian community and other co-workers of Trung’s wanting to know the status of Trung’s name being included on the Facility Services shops “ Appreciation of Service “ board, which is standard practice for retired or deceased employees. The plaque was made and put up twice but it was taken down both times at the direction of Facility Services management.
On July 19,2011, Rodney White wrote a letter to President Young at the University of Washington outlining what appeared to be discriminatory practices against Trung during his five years of employment at the UW . Rodney White explained Trung’s death and how Rodney had attempted to get Trung’s plaque on the shop appreciation board. This letter was signed by many of Trung’s co-workers.
After Rodney sent his letter, Facility Services Maintenance and Alterations management started an investigation in October 2011 about the letter that Rodney White had sent to President Young. Many of the employees who had signed the letter were interviewed. Rodney White was interviewed twice.
On Feb.9,2012, Rodney White was put on paid leave pending further investigation. He was told the reasons for this were his letter about Trung, an up coming complaint from a subordinate and a condolence card and letter he had written up for an employee because his step father had died.
Rodney White is a 65 year old AfricanAmerican who has worked at the UW for 25 years, as both an electrician and supervisor. He has always spoken up for employees especially those dealing with harassment and discrimination. He was an officer with the STAR group (Skilled Trades Against Racism) that sued the UW for failing to promote people of color in Facility Services. The STAR group was given a three year oversight contract to sit on every hiring interview in Facility Services. Rodney was the person selected to be at those interviews.
We the undersigned appeal to President Young to look into Rodney White being put on paid leave pending investigation. We also request that Rodney White be reinstated and that Trung Ngo’s plaque should be put back up on the Facility Services Appreciation Board. Rodney White has been a spokesmen for the civil rights of all UW employees and has worked to promote diversity at the UW. Writing a letter, speaking up for employees and promoting diversity at the UW should not be a reason to be fired.