Email touting ‘Proud to be White’ forwarded among construction executives

LV industry fraught with racism, says Building Trades union

By: - July 2, 2020 5:55 am
like pac man and darth vader had a baby

Work at Allegiant Stadium April 23. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

A week before President Donald Trump tweeted a video of Floridians chanting “white power,” an executive of one of Southern Nevada’s largest heating and air conditioning companies forwarded a racist screed via email to friends, co-workers, and even his boss. 

The subject line of the rant, provided to the Current by the Southern Nevada Building Trades Union: “Be Proud to be White.”  

“There are African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Arab Americans, etc.,” it begins. “And then there are just Americans. You pass me on the street and sneer in my direction.”

The rant tries to make the case that only white people are labeled as racists and in the process, reels off a variety of slurs, including repeated use of the N-word, aimed at Black, Asian, Latino and Arab people.  

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Jeff Austin, longtime business development manager of Lawyers Mechanical Services, initially said of the email when contacted by the Current. “If I did send it, I’m sure that it was something sent to me and I just forwarded it along.” 

In a subsequent email, Austin said indeed it had come from a friend and he simply forwarded it.

Austin would not say why he wrote to friends and colleagues that the email was “very well written.”

Among those to whom Austin forwarded the email is LMS’ founder, Thomas Lawyer. 

Lawyer did not respond to requests for comment, but in a statement, LMS president John Kotek said: 

“The content of the email is inappropriate and is not a reflection of LMS or its values. The entire company’s history is based on one of our greatest cultural values, ‘we are one.’ We have built a business for more than 50 years based on client and partner relations that are free of discrimination of any kind — age, race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, sex, veteran status, etc.”

Another recipient of Austin’s email, Angelo Iannucci, president of Bombard Mechanical, forwarded the homage to white power to friends, business colleagues, and even his employees via the company email. 

Iannucci and Bombard Mechanical’s human resources department failed to respond to numerous requests for comment. 

“I do believe that individuals that harbor these attitudes towards others are being empowered by the President of the United States and when … your employer demonstrates similar attitudes regarding race, it can and has empowered those to act,” William Stanley, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of Southern Nevada Building Trades Union, said in a statement to the Current. 

Bombard Mechanical’s website lists a variety of commercial endeavors, as well as public works projects, such as the Clark County Detention Center and UNLV’s Thomas and Mack modernization.  

“NSHE has zero tolerance for discrimination in any form,” the system said in a statement. “NSHE and its institutions follow the hiring rules and regulations as defined by the Nevada Revised Statutes.”

County commissioners did not respond to requests for comment regarding the government’s vetting process for public works projects. 

LMS is among the contractors building Allegiant Stadium, funded in part by $750 million in public money. The Las Vegas Stadium Authority, which has legislative authority for developing the stadium, “does not qualify or otherwise regulate contractors that are working on Allegiant Stadium,” Jeremy Aguero, who administers the Authority, has told the Current in the past. 

Both LMS and Bombard Mechanical have performed work for the Clark County School District.

“The big items for us are conflicts of interest, debarment by the Federal government of the State of Nevada, and ensuring that suppliers don’t boycott Israel (State statute),” CCSD official Cynthia Smith-Johnson said via email.

“On behalf of the 20,000 construction workers represented by the Southern Nevada Building Trades Unions, we condemn the use of such a vile and reprehensible symbol of hate and racism,” Stanley said. “It is the Building Trades’ goal, in partnership with our contractors, to create a workplace where all tradeswomen and men feel supported, secure, and welcome, no matter their race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. We stand with our members against all forms of bigotry and discrimination. Any attack on or against any member of our construction workforce cannot and will not be tolerated.”

In his statement, Kotek said LMS is conducting a full investigation and taking appropriate action.

“While this individual used his personal email, LMS’s company policy states that associates are forbidden to use the company’s communications systems for personal business or to send chain letters, or for distributing, disseminating text or materials that might be considered discriminatory, offensive or abusive, in that the context is a personal attack, sexist or racist, or might be considered as harassment to anyone,” the statement said.

LMS was also planning a full staff meeting to address the issue and will have mandatory anti-discrimination training, Kotek’s statement said. 

Diversity in the construction industry remains elusive, according to national data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • Among mechanical engineers, 80.4 percent are white. Only 5.1 percent are Black. 
  • About 88 percent of first-line supervisors in the construction trades are white. Just 7.5 percent are Black. 
  • Slightly more than 87 percent of pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters are white. Only 8.4 percent are Black. 
  • Just under 90 percent of sheet metal workers are white. Just under 7 percent are Black. 
  • Among heating, air conditioning, and refrigerators mechanics and installers, 84 percent are white. 9.1 percent are Black.

“The Building Trades in Nevada are majority-minority,” said Stanley of SNBTU. “Having said that, we are a subset of the whole and have the same issues with race, gender, sexual identity, etc. that exist in the general population. I believe the overwhelming majority of building tradeswomen and men just want to go to work every day and earn an honest living for their families.” 

Note: This story was updated with comment from Clark County School District. 

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana has four adult children, two grandsons, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.