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50 Years Since Consent Decree Mandates Employment Of Black Workers


Photo by Javon Swaby from Pexels
This summer marks the 50th anniversary of a major event that should have had a greater impact than it did, but still mattered. We mean the 1971 consent decree mandating the employment of Black workers in the gaming industry.
Many of you recall the Moulin Rouge Agreement of 1960. That just about eliminated the ban on Blacks patronizing Las Vegas Strip and downtown properties.
But what about jobs? Most people of color worked in the back of the house, in jobs like porters, maids, and dishwashers. The NAACP pushed to change that.
President James McMillan even threatened protests when Las Vegas had the world’s attention for the heavyweight championship fight between Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson in 1963. As a result, casino owners promised to hire more Blacks. But they didn’t hire many, and almost none as dealers.
The NAACP and its attorney, Charles Kellar, had had enough. In 1967, they filed suit with the National Labor Relations Board. The Nevada Resort Association promised more hiring and recruitment, and provided a grant to the NAACP to help with those efforts. But again, there weren’t many new hires. By 1971, fewer than five percent of casino dealers were Black, but they comprised more than ten percent of the local population.
Consequently, the Justice Department filed a complaint, saying the casinos were violating Title seven of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
Because there had been so many civil rights cases, the Justice Department often used consent decrees. That’s what the parties here agreed on. The defendants were the Nevada Resort Association, the Strip hotel-casinos, and major local unions. Under a decree, no one is accused of doing anything wrong.
The decree said while Blacks actually had a significant number of jobs, 90 percent of these were “limited to the lowest-paying, least desirable occupations.” The decree said they had to end three practices that led to the problem: Hiring on the basis of connections, placing employees according to qualifications instead of race, and providing training programs. The decree required openness and training programs. If a casino met the threshold of 12.5 percent for hiring Blacks, the Justice Department would no longer monitor them.
As it turned out, the consent decree didn’t really work. The casinos and unions fought efforts to make them show the real numbers. Many of the casinos quit sending in the reports.
Federal officials and the NAACP ran into roadblocks, but also turned their attention elsewhere. Indeed, in 1984, one hotel told an applicant they never hired Black women for security or cashier jobs. When she complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission the EEOC told her that since she had experience in law enforcement, she should form a non-profit and take over enforcement.
Today, few are really aware that the consent decree is TECHNICALLY still in effect.
But it helped. It brought attention to the problem and led to increased hiring for better-paying, higher-powered positions. It also got more people thinking about the issues involved. We’ve come a long way. And we still have a ways to go.

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