It has been a difficult problem for the construction industry: hangman’s nooses, a symbol of hate synonymous with the history of Black lynchings in the U.S., appearing on jobsites. Their occurrence has become so common that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has a data category that tracks complaints about them.
Perhaps nowhere did the issue gain more attention than on an Amazon fulfillment center jobsite in 2021, when workers discovered as many as eight nooses throughout the project over a number of weeks.
Now, those workers have sued Amazon, along with Fairfield, New Jersey-based general contractor RC Andersen and Holliston, Massachusetts-based Wayne J. Griffin Electric, saying the companies didn’t do enough to stop nooses from appearing.
In response, an Amazon spokesperson told Construction Dive, “Hate, racism, and discrimination have no place in our society and are not tolerated at any site associated with Amazon, whether under construction or fully operational. Due to the active legal proceedings, we do not have further comment at this time.” RC Andersen and Griffin didn’t immediate respond to requests for comment.
CEOs weigh in
While the suit is still in litigation, two prominent industry CEOs told Construction Dive that owners and contractors should ultimately be held responsible for stopping hate symbols from appearing on jobsites.
“We’re all responsible,” said Peter Davoren, CEO of New York-based Turner Construction, the largest contractor in the country based on revenue. “An owner delegates the site to the construction manager. It’s still the owner’s site, but it’s a kind of unconditional trust.”
Davoren has been outspoken on the issue of bias-motivated events on jobsites and personally visits projects when one occurs. His company also stops work at sites when hateful graffiti or nooses show up to discuss the importance of fostering an inclusive environment on jobs.
The company recently stopped a job in San Diego after biased graffiti showed up in a bathroom three times in one week.
“We’re training the 700 people that are on the job,” Davoren said. “The owners are in full support of us, but if we’re delayed, we pick up the cost. We’ve done that before.”
Deryl McKissack, CEO of Washington, D.C.-based construction management firm McKissack & McKissack, said if contractors and owners know about biased-motivated events taking place on jobsites and don’t take action to stop them, they should be held accountable.
“It’s when you’re put on notice and you do nothing that you become liable, or you become party to what’s taking place,” said McKissack.