Milwaukee To Lose EEOC District Status - Agency Says Nationwide Restructuring Won't Affect Services


Posted: July 8, 2005

An agency-wide restructuring plan the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission approved Friday will downgrade the Milwaukee office from a district office to an area office.

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The move was denounced by critics of the plan.

"It's a slap in the face to anyone in this town who gets up every morning and goes to work," said attorney Jeffrey Hynes, chairman of the Wisconsin Employment Lawyers Association.

"For our city it sends a clear message from the administration that we in Milwaukee are viewed as a second-class city that will be given second-class treatment when it comes to enforcement of very important discrimination laws, even though Milwaukee continues to be one of the most segregated cities in the country."

Gabrielle Martin, president of the National Council of EEOC locals, who attended the meeting in Washington, D.C, said following the 3-1 vote: "There is a pall over America with this vote. This is the beginning of the dismantling of civil rights."

In addition to Milwaukee, seven other district offices around the country will be downgraded: Baltimore, Denver, Cleveland, Detroit, New Orleans, San Antonio and Seattle. The agency will open two new offices: in Las Vegas and in Mobile, Ala.

EEOC officials staunchly defended the restructuring plan, saying that it will be "business as usual for the public" and not gloom and doom.

Under the plan, no jobs will be lost and no offices will close; the plan does reduce the number of managers and administrators and increases front-line staff so more streamlined and efficient services can be delivered to the public, the agency said in a statement released after the vote.

"We don't envision the size of the (Milwaukee office) will change from what it is now," said Nick Inzeo, the director of the office of field programs for the EEOC, in an interview. The office now has a staff of 44 people.

But he conceded that in Milwaukee and across the country, the agency has shrunk in recent years through attrition.

He said EEOC offices were downgraded on the basis of workload, primarily the number of charges filed.

As a district office, Milwaukee has served Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.

The two-step downgrade from a district office to an area office would mean Milwaukee would report to the district office in Chicago.

Patrick Morris, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Milwaukee), said Kohl was "disappointed with the decision." He and other members of the congressional delegation had raised questions about the reorganization. It's too early to tell what the effects of the downgrade will mean, he said.

Sangita Nayak, a representative of 9 to 5, the National Association of Working Women, said the organization "is worried that this is reckless and will have a detrimental impact on people who experience discrimination in Milwaukee."

Martin and other critics also faulted the process the commission used to pass the restructuring, which they said failed to get ample hearings. But EEOC officials said that labor and various groups were given time to respond.

EEOC Commissioner Stuart J. Ishimaru, who voted no, also faulted the process. He called it "very shortsighted."

"A diminished presence in those cities sends the wrong signal," he said.

From the July 9, 2005, editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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