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Tuesday, July 1st 2008

11:14 AM

Fermi, APS and diversity

Sister of Physics Brothers posted on her blog about a brochure that APS put together on diversity in physics, which prominently featured Fermilab. Of course both APS and Fermilab have cases pending against them for they way their female employees were treated. Actually Fermi has been accused a number of times of violating civil rights and then  there is that report on gender inequities at Fermi. (see my website for more details) And you will remember right after that paper was released Fermi had "let's all be friends"  lunches for women and we can't forget that Fermi also asked APS to come on site and conduct a visit to evaluate the status of women - except that any women who planned to talk to APS about that status was supposed to 'register' with the EEO office, so it really wasn't a 'confidential' visit  and in case the visit didn't come out as Fermi planned, they would have the names of those women who gave the information to APS.

We already know what happens to women who complain at Fermi.....So how nice it is now that Fermi and APS are helping each other out. Fermi invites APS to do a visit and APS features Fermi in it's brochure. It kind of smells of conflict of interest to me.....

So let me tell you about my 'diversity' experiences while I worked at Fermi. (part of my 'pork' report - how they spend your tax dollars)

Of course how women are treated is well documented.

I was the group leader for about 20-25 technicians as well as an engineer and some co-op students. I was involved in meetings where prospective employees were discussed and I also served as the recruiting coordinator for my department for a number of years. I was also involved in the annual increase and merit money discussions for many years.

Not too long after I became the group leader, the person in my group who was in charge of daily assignments, time sheets, etc for the technicians told me he was keeping a 'log' on the one and only black person in the group. He said it was for disciplinary purposes. He planned to collect enough 'evidence' and then write this person up. It smacked of harrasment and discrimination to me, so I immediately told him he could not do this, unless he kept logs on every person in the group and treated them all equally. I went to my supervisor and told him about the situation and he backed me up. Years later this same person was singling out another black technician for similar treatment. I spoke to this technician since I saw that this guy was attempting to single him out and set him up and I thought this guy's plan was to fire him. This tech had been set up and lied about and blamed for things that were not his fault (the modus operandi of this guy) At this time it was the same management that did the retaliating against me. I suggested this technician tell someone or make some kind of complaint so there was a record of it. I recently heard that this same guy was still after this technician, but now he got in trouble - finally. This time this guy was reported and disciplined. It only took years and the department head dying. I am so glad that they have this new department head, who I know, and besides being a good engineer also seems to be a decent, moral and ethical person (but unfortunately in the minority there) Too bad it took close to 15 years to happen. People in that department tell me they felt such relief when Lange died and how much more pleasant the atmosphere is now.

Back to my experience. During the meetings where we looked over the applications of prospective employees, there were discussions that appalled and horrified me. I heard comments like "That name does not sound white", "That is a 'black' college. We all know an "A" at 'those' schools is equivalent to a "D" at 'other' (white) schools". These were comments by the person who was in charge of all technicians as well as engineering management, one person who went on the be the department head.

Yes, I did report each and every comment. I still heard some after that, but I am sure they were more careful not to say that in front of me. No one was relieved of their position, and I am quite sure they did not change their opinions and feelings.

Once when some applications were being reviewed and one engineer pointed out that we should interview one candidate because he was an Eagle Scout, I asked what the equivalent criteria he would look be looking for from the women. He gave me a look that said,'why would we interview women?'. I am not sure how being an Eagle Scout enhances any engineering ability.....

Of course the same kind of comments came up during the meetings to discuss annual rankings which were tied directly into how much of an annual increase everyone received. Time and time again I was appalled at the racist comments (which no one else ever objected to) as well as comments and vehement arguments about the rankings of employees that never even did any work for these men. They wanted their own personal (and biased) opinions on these people to be taken into account. We were supposed to be evaluating their work not our personal opinion of them or their race! As far as I know this never ended....it went on as long as I was involved, thru the early 2000's. I am fairly certain those individuals still there have not changed their opinion (the guy I mentioned above that singled out black technicians was 'reported' by the department head for that same behavior just recently).

It would be interesting to compare the pay and annual increase rates of the black employees in that department versus the white boys. I'm sure that data exists. Of course that would take a FOIA - and we already know Fermi does not comply with that law.

There was also the time that I heard from some of the black men that there were some racist comments written in a bathroom. This bathroom was mainly frequented by men other than the techs in my department. There was a bathroom adjacent to the tech area that they all used for the most part. This other bathroom was down a hallway and not near any tech areas but near offices - management and engineers. Curiously Lange also only used this out of the way bathroom. He never used the one within feet of his office. When a black technician reported the graffiti to him, he claimed to have no knowledge of it - even tho I was told there was no way that anyone (white males) using this bathroom could miss it. Lange did have what appeared to be 'class' issues, (and probably race issues), so no one was surprised that he would not ever use a bathroom that had been 'soiled' by technicians. He had referred to the technicians in his department as 'grease monkeys'....

So much for 'diversity'. Whatever 'pretty picture' APS and Fermi have collaborated to paint, the reality is much much different.
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