In 1966, Robert Ingram, a Black teenager, took and passed a written examination which qualified him to enter the Apprenticeship Program of the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association. The Union promptly declared the test invalid, and Ingram was forced to sue the Union to gain admittance to the program.
Although Ingram completed the Apprenticeship Program and became a journeyman sheet metal worker, his problems with this primarily white union were not over. In 1976, the Union fined him $2,500 for allegedly violating its constitution and by-laws. His “crime” was that for 9 years he has consistently and vocally opposed the racist policies of Local 28.
Bob Ingram is a member of Black Economic Survival, a community-based organization in Brooklyn, New York, that works with unions and contractors to ensure the hiring of minorities in the construction industry. In 1975, BES attempted to get the Union to integrate the workers at a building site in Brooklyn. During the course of this struggle, Ingram was hired and then abruptly laid off. He refused to accept the lay off on the grounds that it was racially motivated. He claimed it was a direct result of his refusal to contribute to a “workers’ defense fund.” This fund was raising money to pay legal fees arising from the Union’s unsuccessful legal battles to keep blacks out of the Union.
CCR attorneys and others filed a federal lawsuit on Ingram’s behalf, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Although still in the early stages, the Court has reminded the Union of its poor record on minority hiring and the Union’s attorneys have indicated it may be prepared to drop the fine and expunge the incident from Mr. Ingram’s record.
Jose Antonio Lugo, Michael Ratner, Liz Schneider, with Harold Mayerson, Terry McGuinness, and law student Paul Schneyer