This story was updated at 5:40 pm on June 23 to reflect additional information provided by Andersen Construction and Oregon Tradeswomen.
A noose was found hanging at a downtown Portland construction site last month. The hate symbol was found by a female apprentice of color on May 20, five days before the killing of George Floyd which has sparked renewed demands for racial justice throughout the nation and across the globe.
The apprentice reported her discovery of the hate symbol immediately to her foreman who is employed by TCM Corp, a subcontractor to Andersen, according to a letter dated June 19 and sent by Oregon Tradeswomen and Constructing Hope to Andersen Construction CEO Joel Anderson.
It wasn’t until nearly three weeks later, June 9, when higher ups at Andersen were made aware that the noose had been found on the job site, said Andersen President Travis Baker. The noose, about a foot total in length, was found in the early morning hanging on the wall of a man and material hoist, an elevator for transporting people and equipment up and down on the job site.
The letter, obtained by XRAY, suggests Anderson and TCM foremen initially were dismissive of the complaint:
The [TCM] foreman responded that it was ‘probably a joke’ and did nothing further. The apprentice then went to an Andersen foreman, who indicated he would address it at a foreman’s meeting, but then later indicated to the apprentice he had ‘forgotten about it.’ The apprentice took it upon herself to remove the noose when those in charge took no action.
“Andersen personnel [on the job site] – our superintendent and our project manager, those job level leaders were not aware of anything until June 9 when we got word from Cherry City, another subcontractor,” Baker told XRAY in an interview. “We take responsibility for all of our people. If one of our people fails, we have failed,” he said.
Because nooses evoke the practice of lynching – the hanging, killing and terrorizing of African-Americans in the southern US in the 19th and 20th centuries – they are considered a direct threat to African-Americans in particular.
“Neither of these responses from jobsite supervision at the subcontractor and [general contractor] level is acceptable,” states the letter, endorsed by over 40 organizations including several unions such as the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council, the Oregon AFL-CIO and The Urban League of Portland. “We can no longer stand by and excuse such behaviors in this way, for if we do, we are complicit.”
Andersen said the company hired an external investigator who launched an investigation of the incident last week. The company aims to find out who placed the noose at the job site, “and to ensure that they are prosecuted to the full extent of the law and disallowed from ever working on an Andersen project in the future, regardless of who this person’s (or persons) employer is.”
Foremen Not Disciplined
For now, however, neither foreman who failed to relay the information to management has been disciplined, Baker told XRAY. “We don’t believe that their presence poses any risk to the individuals [who discovered and were aware of the noose] or anybody else. Their mistake was with the dismissiveness or the lack of prioritization.”
Baker added, “We are waiting until our third-party investigation is complete, and at that point we will stand back and decide what response is appropriate for them, whether that’s discipline, training or both.”
TCM Corp has not responded to a request to comment for this story.
“Women and People of Color remain under-represented in our industry and are frequent targets of harassment and discrimination and bullying,” the letter states. It listed actions for Andersen to take to “demonstrate an authentic commitment to address the May 20th incident, but also the institutional norms of our industry, which allow and encourage racism and misogyny to continue on our jobsites.”
In a statement sent to XRAY, Baker noted, “First and foremost, Andersen Construction is disgusted and outraged with a hate symbol like this being displayed anywhere, let alone one of our own job sites. We acknowledge the negative emotions and outright pain this abhorrent event caused and to the individuals at our project directly impacted, and to our Black community at large, we are so very sorry.”
The construction project is a collaboration of the City of Portland, Portland Community College, Portland State University and Oregon Health and Sciences University. Located at Southwest Fourth Avenue and Montgomery Street downtown, the seven-story, 175,000-square-foot building is expected to be completed this fall.
The City of Portland was notified about the incident June 9, the same day Andersen management was notified, according to Laura Oppenheimer, strategic communications manager at the city’s Office of Management and Finance.
“Incidents like this one, and similar incidents happening around the country, remind us how deeply racism is embedded in our culture and how far we have to go to attain justice for Black Americans,” said the City of Portland, PCC, PSU and OHSU in a joint statement. “Since we were notified on June 9, building owners have been actively involved in reviewing the response taken by the lead contractor, Andersen Construction, to this disturbing incident.”
Oregon Tradeswomen Executive Director Kelly Kupcak said the group is dedicated to ensuring safety from retaliation for women on the jobsite. “We are committed to working with Portland’s construction industry stakeholders, including our union partners, registered apprenticeship programs, public owners, and employers to make the long overdue changes and stand united in the fight against racism in our industry and our region.”
Stay tuned to XRAY for updates on this story.
Stay tuned to XRAY for updates on this story.