The new “probie” class of the New York City Fire Department represents progress in an agency that has historically resisted diversification. But let’s be clear about how the city got to this point.
Among the new class of 2013, 37% of recruits are Hispanic. This is in a Department that has 10% Latinos overall and in a city that is 30% Hispanic.
At Monday’s swearing-in ceremony, Mayor Bloomberg said, “In the nearly 12 years that we have been in office, the proportion of minority firefighters has nearly doubled.”
What was left out was the lawsuit by the Vulcan Society, the fraternal organization of African American firefighters, that ushered in major changes. The presiding judge in the suit Nicholas Garufis wrote in 2012: “The city’s use of discriminatory hiring practices has persisted through numerous changes in city leadership, the evidence adduced in this case gives the court little hope that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg or any of his senior leadership has any intention of stepping up to the task of ending discrimination in the FDNY.”
A court of appeals in 2013 upheld Judge Garufis order for the FDNY to hold 293 spots, 86 for African Americans and 107 for Hispanics
In the long struggle for equitable access to blue collar jobs, African Americans, Latinos and Asians have had no other choice but to seek legal recourse. We have seen this before with the police department, where Latinos were once discouraged from applying or where other tactics – like a height requirement that eventually was ruled discriminatory- were used to block entry.
But the municipal workforce, from the rank and file to City Hall, should reflect the demographics of this city.
While the non-Hispanic white population is 30%, Bloomberg’s senior administration was 70% white in 2010. A report this month by the National Institute for Latino Policy criticized the Mayor for a lack of transparency on more recent employment data.
In 2014, this situation has to change. Anyone who wants to be the next mayor of this city must make a commitment to ensuring that the next administration looks like this City.
This is not simply the right thing to do but it matters for shaping policies that are responsive and effective in a city, and nation, that needs all of its communities and consumers to thrive.