Retired Chicago Fire Department (CFD) firefighter James Winbush and Hayward Ashford, a retired 33-year former colleague, on Sunday, January 22, voiced outrage at Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s agreeing with a federal court’s ruling to end a 42-year minority hiring mandate.
Winbush, who under Mayor Harold Washington’s administration was the Department’s Affirmative Action Officer, and Ashford said the Chicago Fire Department allegedly currently has only 400 Black firemen, and they blame Lightfoot for the decrease in Black firemen.
They are upset with the mayor for agreeing with Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, who approved a joint request between federal prosecutors who oversaw the 42-year Albrecht Decree, and city lawyers, that ended the March 1980 decree.
In dropping the hiring mandate last year, the judge wrote, “The Court finds that the city of Chicago has made good faith efforts to comply with the decree, and dissolution of the decree will not limit or hamper future challenges to alleged employment discrimination in the CFD.”
The Court’s ruling ended the decree that focused on minority hiring in ranking positions.
Prosecutors presented an 18-page motion seeking dissolution of the decree based on their findings of increased minority representation and cooperation with the CFD. The administration of Lightfoot joined the motion.
In an interview with the Chicago Crusader, Winbush, who retired as a Fire Department captain, said, “The numbers of Black firemen are dropping since the mayor ended the mandate.”
Explaining, Winbush said the mandate that had increased the number of Black firemen came out of a lawsuit he filed in 1973 called 73C661.
“I went to the federal government. I got him to come here in the Nixon administration. I saw Nixon on an interview with James Brown, with whom he was a friend.” Winbush thought this would help increase the hiring of Black firemen.
After meeting with U.S. Justice Department officials, they came to Chicago with a group of attorneys and interviewed Winbush, who had conducted a study with a Northwestern University professor of Humanities, the findings of which he said “turned out to be racism in the Fire Department and Local 2.”
“They wanted me to give a deposition about the department and the level of racism,” recounted Winbush. “They did investigate and filed 73C661 and went to court. There were only 250 Blacks on the Department then.
“We had been segregated, from 1872 (Engine Company #21) when we first came, on up to 1967. I was the last of Blacks hired under segregation in July of 1965,” Winbush said.
“I formed a League (the African American Firefighters & Paramedics League AAFPL) in October of 1967 and took on the city head on with Mayor [Richard J.] Daley and CFD Commissioner Robert J. Quinn.”
By the early 1970s, Winbush said they were frustrated at the lack of progress. “We needed someone to tell them what to do instead of us asking them what to do, which is why I went to D.C. to the Justice Department.”
Winbush said the DOJ filed lawsuit 73C661. “That stayed in place all the way to the present when a Black female mayor decided to abandon it,” said Winbush, referring to Lightfoot.
He also wrote Appendix G into the Fire Department contract during the 1980 Fire Department strike working as a consultant to Rev. Jesse Jackson, who helped end that historic 23-day fire strike.
Winbush said Appendix G has been in the contract ever since, until Lightfoot ended it after 42 years. Appendix G required the Fire Department to strive for as close to 45 percent minority representation in all ranks as is reasonably achievable, and as quickly as reasonably possible.
“It had to have been written in a way that it was acceptable to the white union, and they conceded on that, based on what they said they were doing it for Jackson. No other administration acted on it except Harold Washington’s administration,” Winbush said.
“In the 1980s, I became the affirmative action officer under Mayor Washington, and we got a lot of things accomplished through 73C661. Once Harold died, the Fire Department administration demoted me from Deputy Fire Commissioner down to lieutenant and said, ‘Malcolm X, it’s time to go’,” he recalled, laughing. He was sent back into the field.
“The next contract, which is open for the last two years, with this mayor she said she is going to drop Appendix G because it was a shoulder to the 73C661 consent decree. She was going to drop that completely,” Winbush stated.
He said Lightfoot’s idea of affirmative action and integration is to “bring more lesbians and gay men on the Department.” Winbush said his former position of affirmative action officer is now held by a lesbian woman.
“That has been her understanding, to end discrimination against gay people in the fire and police service,” Winbush stated.
“The police district up in Boystown is just about all gay police officers. She wanted to replicate that in the Fire Department.”
When asked how his affirmative action requirements can be returned to the CFD, Winbush said it can be done with a new mayor.
“Once the mayor signed off on it and the government agreed to it,” that ended that program. He said with a new mayor, a new investigation and new findings in the CFD of discrimination, it could be reinstituted.
“Currently, there has been an exclusion of Blacks for the inclusion of Hispanics, who are basically acting extremely white,” he said.