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Racial Suit Divides Boeing Workers

June 6, 1999

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A racial discrimination lawsuit that once united Boeing’s black workers has now divided them, the result of a $15 million settlement labeled fair by one side, unjust by the other.

``The reason I gave up $30,000 is because it didn’t give me any remedy to what was going on,″ said Kevin Biglow, a Boeing worker who opted out of the settlement. ``And you can’t buy me off.″

Racial discrimination concerns in 1996 led to a class action lawsuit against Boeing, whose black workers claimed they were passed over for promotions and were later threatened for complaining about it.

In January, Boeing and attorneys for the plaintiffs reached agreement on a consent decree _ which lays out how Boeing would avoid racial discrimination in the future _ and the $15 million settlement.

But since then, accusations of greed and deception have clouded what many thought was a triumph for Boeing’s black work force.

The controversy centers on a disagreement about the effect the consent decree will have on workers facing discrimination at the plants and the amount of money people will get from the settlement.

Advocates say the consent decree offers real change for workers and that those fighting the agreement are only trying to get more money out of Boeing.

Opponents of the deal say the decree is worthless and the settlement payments not enough.

Some critics also accuse the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader who helped broker the settlement, of accepting a payoff from Boeing.

Boeing Chairman Phil Condit is accused of directing multimillion dollar contracts to two black-owned businesses that may have ties to Jackson’s Rainbow-PUSH Coalition.

Jackson’s office has denied the allegations, and Boeing has said the charges are based on hearsay.

Under the proposed deal, about 12,900 past and present Boeing workers would share $7.3 million. The largest payments would go to the more than 200 named plaintiffs.

Attorneys representing the workers would get $3.8 million, including $750,000 for reviewing the claims and monitoring the conditions of the proposed consent decree.

The remainder would go to Boeing diversity programs. The deal calls for Boeing to revamp its Equal Employment Opportunity system, implement a nondiscrimination layoff policy, address promotion practice complaints and create a system to monitor problems.

A federal judge in Seattle has postponed until Sept. 23 a hearing to determine if he will approve the settlement.

Boeing Wichita employee David Roberts, who supports the settlement, said workers need to give the decree a chance to work.

``Some of these people out there that’s in this lawsuit, they want to basically say, ’We want a million dollars apiece. Let’s bring Boeing to their knees,‴ Roberts said. ``Let’s think about this. You bring Boeing to its knees, who have you hurt?

``Boeing’s a big company. Boeing would look mighty stupid to put anything in writing that they’re not prepared to stand by.″

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