Following a review prompted by racism and discrimination charges, Woodlawn Cemetery officials said this morning in a press release that they would be "reconfiguring" their supervising staff and make significant changes to the way they train both managers and general employees.
The review became public two weeks ago after an activist group called South Bronx Community Congress and Councilman Charles Barron led a protest outside Woodlawn's northeastern gates.
Read our story about the protest and get some details about the charges by clicking here.
The protesters called for the removal of at least one particular cemtery foreman. In the press release, which I've posted below here, there is no mention of any specific personnel moves or any details about what the review found, but it's obvious whatever happened prompted significant changes. And swift ones. At least relative to once the review went public. When we contacted them two weeks ago, they said the review was still in it's "early stages." (South Bronx Community Congress lawyer Ramon Jimenez contradicted that statement, saying he was told the review was to be completed June 30). Two weeks later, it's concluded and the board of directors voted to implement wide-ranging changes.
In any case, here's the statement, provided by P.R. firm Rubenstein Associates:
"Following a far reaching, five month review, the Board of Trustees of The Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx today announced a series of changes designed to upgrade the Cemetery’s human resources structure and function and strengthen and reinforce its anti-discrimination program."
John P. Toale, Jr., President and Chief Executive Officer of Woodlawn, stated, “We are a responsible employer that seeks to provide a professional work environment for all of our employees. When it was brought to our attention that we may be deficient, we conducted a thorough, wide ranging and impartial investigation whereby complaints of discrimination were assessed, including the Cemetery’s overall management of its employees and the quality and level of training that our supervisors and employees receive. It was concluded that we can do better, and so we shall -- immediately.”
Toale said, “We have consistently sought to maintain the highest standards of work environment, one that embraces diversity, respects the employee and encourages promotion and career advancement regardless of race, color, creed or gender.”
“The internal review itself and the robust changes which flow from it reinforce our zero tolerance policy of discrimination anywhere on our grounds, as well as our commitment to improving supervisory skills and employing top quality personnel,” he continued.
The Cemetery is reconfiguring its supervisory personnel. It will also hire professionals to sustain a training program aimed at Cemetery supervisors for the purpose of identifying and preventing potential discriminatory actions. “While we already offer annual training in this area, it needs to be strengthened,” noted Toale. “Other work practices will also be reevaluated and modified, “he said.
“We will also place resources into assisting supervisors in strengthening their professional skills while a significant program will be launched to provide expanded training for unionized employees for the purpose of helping achieve individual career advancement,” said Toale.
“We will also be implementing a plan to create far more rigorous documentation on work performance of both supervisors and employees,” explained Toale. “We are moving to create a clear and unambiguous line of reporting where performance is documented and registered. That kind of structure, with a written review, will ensure our other reforms can be efficiently measured and accounted for.”
Toale concluded, “Everyday throughout New York companies and institutions are faced with similar human resource challenges but choose to maintain their silence about the problem and their solutions. Woodlawn Cemetery is not just another company. Our Board believes we have an obligation to let our community know that we have responded to the challenge, and we have found ourselves in need of change. This transparency is meant to affirm our commitment to our employees, our supervisory staff and, ultimately, to the families who rightfully view the Woodlawn Cemetery as a sacred place for memorial and reflection.”