An African American construction worker at the Comcast Center building site said yesterday that he had been blackballed as a "troublemaker" for complaining that a white coworker taunted him with a noose in October.
Paul Solomon, a 14-year member of the International Union of Operating Engineers, told City Council that he had been working full-time before the Oct. 1 incident. Since that job ended, he said, he has worked only five of the last 45 days.
"It seems like I've been put on the bench," he said. "All because I stood up and said something about this noose."
His testimony came at a hearing on a bill introduced by City Councilman Darrell L. Clarke that would outlaw "the display of symbols of racial animus" in the workplace or public spaces. Those symbols include nooses, burning crosses and swastikas. The measure would increase the fine for "ethnic intimidation" from $300 to $1,900 and set a maximum 90-day jail term.
The bill was unanimously passed out of Council's Committee on Licenses and Inspections yesterday and is due for a final Council vote a week from today.
Solomon, testifying on behalf of the bill, said he had been operating a hoist at the Comcast site Oct. 1, transporting workers and materials, when he stopped at the 45th floor to pick up a glass worker. The worker, he said, held up a mini-noose and said: "I want to kill someone."
The incident was regarded as one of many copycat instances of intimidation spurred by the racially charged case of the Jena 6 in Louisiana. It sparked a demonstration at the site in protest of both the alleged incident and the dearth of building-trades jobs for minorities.
The glaziers' union worker accused of waving the noose was banned from the site.
"We really need to make people understand that this is something that won't be condoned," said public relations executive A. Bruce Crawley, one of the city's leading advocates for increased minority hiring in the building trades.
Solomon broke down while speaking about the impact of the recent events, and Council members appeared moved by his testimony.
"In this day and time, for us to be dealing with something like this, frankly, is amazing," Clarke said.
Council members offered to write Solomon's union to determine why he was not working, but privately said they would proceed with caution before they had talked to all sides.
Solomon said he had retained a lawyer and filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Solomon said he had been working a full schedule for East Coast Hoist before Oct. 22, when the hoist was no longer required at the job.
Solomon said one contractor had told a union representative "I was a troublemaker and they didn't want me on their job site."
Officials from East Coast and Local 542 of the International Union of Operating Engineers did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.
Al Fazzini, spokesman for the L.F. Driscoll Co., the construction manager for the Comcast Center, said that the company had issued no directive against hiring Solomon and that he was hired at a Driscoll site as recently as last week.