About 75 black firefighters rallied on the District Building steps yesterday to protest the D.C. Fire Department's recent hiring and promotion procedures, which they said did not include enough of an affirmative action effort.
The protest, organized by the predominantly black Progressive Fire Fighters Association, was directed against Mayor Marion Barry's recent order to hire 88 new firefighters and promote 68 fire officials before a decision was reached in an Office of Human Rights hearing into alleged racial discrimination in the department.
The city earlier this week swore in 58 of the new firefighters, having selected them under a procedure designed to ensure that nearly two-thirds were black. Thirty-seven of the new firefighters--about 64 percent--are black, and one is Hispanic.
But the black firefighters charged yesterday that the city's affirmative-action efforts did not go far enough, and blasted the mayor for going ahead with the hirings before a final decision is reached in the human rights hearing.
"For the mayor to proceed with hiring and promotions before the hearing examiner hands down a decision is a betrayal of his own administrative process, and a betrayal of our faith in that administrative process," charged Romeo Spaulding, president of the Progressive Fire Fighters.
"We represent one of the most discriminatory agencies in the District government," Spaulding said. "We're tired of being shrouded with racism and discrimination."
Washington Urban League President Jerome Page spoke at the rally in support of the black firefighters, calling Barry "ill-advised" in ordering the new hirings at this time and charging that there is "institutional racism" within the department.
The hearing, which began last fall, was ordered after the Office of Human Rights ruled in favor of a discrimination complaint filed by the Progressive Fire Fighters and the Black Fire Officers Association and mandated a sweeping affirmative-action plan for the department.
Spaulding said it is not enough that about 64 percent of the new firefighters are black, since 21 of 24 firefighters hired last year are white.
"You can't please everybody," said Jose Gutierrez, the city's personnel director. "The first 24 hired were associated with an error made by a personnel clerk and has nothing to do with this one. And the reason we went ahead with the hiring is because we had waited long enough for the hearing to be completed. We had to proceeed."
When the hearing was first ordered last fall, he and the mayor expected that it would take no longer than 30 to 45 days for a decision to be reached, Gutierrez said.