Following complaints about racial employment discrimination among city departments, Supervisor Sandra Fewer on Tuesday said she plans to propose a new office to address racial equity.
Fewer said that she is considering introducing legislation creating an Office of Racial Equity to address not only discrimination in employment practices in city government but in other areas, such as housing policies.
The office would have the authority to obtain data from city departments and use the data to analyze it for issues around equity. The findings could be used to create goals and mandates for more diversity.
“In San Francisco, where we are the self-proclaimed most progressive city in the United States, to have a black population that is less than 5 percent is quite frankly embarrassing,” Fewer said.
Fewer announced the idea Tuesday during a board hearing on African-American workforce hiring, promotions and discrimination.
In recent months, African-American employees who are members of SEIU 1021 have complained of discrimination in city departments, resulting in the failure to promote them into higher paying jobs and to address their labor complaints. The union represents nearly 14,000 in San Francisco’s city and county departments, school district and nonprofits
The effort, the subject of two other recent hearings before the board, is prompting city departments to change employment policies.
In September, Mayor London Breed responded to complaints by issuing an executive directive, ordering expansion of harassment prevention and implicit bias training and better tracking of discipline data and complaints.
Micki Callahan, director of the Department of Human Resources, acknowledged there was a problem during Tuesday’s hearing. “I do think that it is clear that there is a significant problem and the city can and should do more and the mayor’s executive directive provides us a good roadmap for doing that.”
The directive also called on human resources to hire two full-time employees to focus on diversity recruitment. Those positions have not yet been filled.
“The racism we see in San Francisco may be a little bit different than the racism that we see in Mississippi. But the racism is here. It is clear and it is present,” said Joseph Bryant, vice president of SEIU local 1021, at a rally on the steps of City Hall prior to the hearing. “It’s a sophisticated discrimination that takes place … that has the same results as the blatant discrimination. But it is covered and it is hidden and we must stop it now.”
To illustrate the inequalities, SEIU 1021 said that data they obtained from DHR shows that “black workers receive disciplinary dismissals at a rate 2.5 times higher than their overall representation in the workforce” and that “when looking at the highest paid classifications by race, the average black worker makes $67,000, while the average white worker makes $150,000.”
Susan Gard, chief of policy for the Department of Human Resources, said in an email that SEIU’s salary calculations are based upon a weighted average using the highest possible salaries by job and not actual employee salaries.
Gard said in the email that “a more accurate measure of compensation by race would be actual average salaries among active, full-time, [permanent civil service] City employees. By this measure, among black employees, the average salary is $86,727; and among white employees, it is $112,632.”
At the rally, Board of Supervisors President Malia Cohen highlighted some of the disparities she has seen in the hiring at City Hall. “Black workers in The City and county of San Francisco are more likely to receive disciplinary action, more likely to go on medical leave and more likely to hold low income low wage jobs,” Cohen said. “We must make sure that our departments remove each and every bias in their hiring, in their recruiting, in their retention, in their promotion and in their management levels.”
This story has been updated to include an emailed response from the Department of Human Resources in reaction to the published article.