The Electrical Worker online
April 2021

L.A. Members Unite Against
Racist Jobsite Symbol
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Jaime Rodriguez wasn't expecting to find one of the world's most enduring symbols of hate when he showed up to work the morning of Feb. 23.

The Los Angeles Local 11 inside wireman apprentice was working with signatory contractor Walton Electric on a 5-story low-income housing project in South L.A. when he entered a unit to find a Nazi swastika fashioned from cardboard and tape, presumably made and left there by a member of one of the many trades on the job. The symbol, particularly on a job with an overwhelming majority of Latino workers, was a jarring reminder of the racism and hatred that minority workers have to deal with far too often.

Rodriguez immediately made his foreman, Edgar Aleman, aware of the swastika, and the enraged Iraq War Army combat veteran took photos and texted them to the general contractor's superintendent, who eventually joined Aleman to throw out the swastika. The next day, Walton Electric sent a representative to speak to all foremen on the project about the incident and made clear that racial intolerance would not be allowed on the jobsite. Foremen from each of the represented trades later followed up with every worker on the project and announced that whoever was responsible for the swastika would be fired when found out.

Although racist, sexist and homophobic slurs are still far too common on construction sites, they're too often ignored. Brothers Rodriguez and Aleman took action and refused to brush them off.

Aleman recalled a visit to the Holocaust museum in Dallas with his wife, saying, "In situations like this, I refuse to stay silent. I will not be a bystander; I will be an upstander." An "upstander," he said, was a reference to those who supported Jewish families during Nazi occupation. He recited the inspiration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as well, citing a familiar quote. "In the end," he said, "we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends."

"When I joined the union, I never imagined racism and racist graffiti would be prevalent and tolerated," Rodriguez said. "I joined for all the reasons that are promoted: good pay, health benefits, retirement package, solid representation. I was moved by my foreman's actions. He didn't accept, 'That's how it is,' when I showed him the swastika. He can serve as a role model for others to not tolerate unacceptable work conditions, be they safety or harassment."

When he heard about the incident, Local 11 Business Manager Joel Barton said, "It is disgraceful that this type of desecration and mentality still exists today on our jobsites. We cannot allow the dissemination of racist and inhumane symbols to perpetuate amongst our ranks. I am proud of these members and their employer for standing up and addressing this unacceptable behavior. Let us all strive to accept one another as sisters and brothers and lead us into a brighter future."

International President Lonnie R. Stephenson spoke about the it with LocalĀ 11 business agent and organizer Francisco "Paco" Arago, and the two shared their anger over the incident.

"Too many of these racist, divisive acts have popped up on jobsites across the U.S., and it is unacceptable," Stephenson said. "The only way we fulfill our mission to organize every worker in the electrical industry is to welcome our sisters and brothers from different backgrounds and to celebrate those things that make us unique. We all want the same things: safety on the job, to be able to provide for ourselves and our families, a secure retirement, freedom from harassment.

"Each of us joined this union to improve our lives, and racism like what happened in Los Angeles won't be tolerated in the IBEW," he said. "There's so much more that makes us similar than divides us. That's been a theme of the labor movement since we stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Dr. King as he marched for civil rights and workers' rights, and we're committed to removing this kind of intolerance from our jobsites."

"Beyond giving an honest 'eight for eight' to our contractors, our duty as union electricians is to protect our working conditions, enforce our contract on our jobsites and continue to build an unbreakable organization that will better the quality of life of our membership and working families," Arago said. "We cannot turn a blind eye to any type of discrimination on our jobsites, and this action that was taken by our members is a great example of how we play a role. Solidarity is our weapon."

"I want to thank Brothers Rodriguez and Aleman for speaking up and bringing attention to this horrible incident," Stephenson said. "I'm sorry they had to go through it. But this kind of thing can't be swept under the rug any longer. When we see this type of abhorrent behavior on our jobsites, it's our responsibility as union brothers and sisters to stand up and demand that it be stopped."


Local 11 foreman Edgar Aleman, left, with inside wireman apprentice Jaime Rodriguez.