Final Analysis: Engineering Tolerance

Why government has to get involved in keeping workplaces hospitable to all.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
 
If there exists a common thread in the crazy-quilt method of the Kushner/Trump administration, it surely must be the enthusiastic repudiation of “government overreach.” Whatever the field — health care, science, the environment, workers’ rights — the new administration believes the previous administration overstepped its bounds and that we, the people, deserve to have our manacles removed. (This same government is happy to make a far-reaching exception on matters of immigration, but that’s a column for another time.)
 
Government overreach is a favorite argument of people who want their potholes filled as long as someone else pays for it. These same people tend to suggest that government shouldn’t interfere in private employment matters because, hey, no one should tell business owners who they can hire and fire.
 
Which brings us to Electroimpact, an aerospace company that supplies robotic assembly tools to the likes of Boeing and Airbus. Based in Mukilteo, Electroimpact has created a successful place for itself in the lucrative field of aviation and aerospace engineering. Its name has graced the pages of this very magazine on occasion. 
 
The company created a sticky situation last year when it became known that its owner and CEO, Peter Zieve, doesn’t like Muslims, not to mention white couples who “choose to not repopulate and allow our wonderful country to be backfilled with rubbish from the desperate and criminal populations of the Third World.”
 
As Dave Barry might say, I’m not making this up. In March, after a 10-month investigation by the state, Electroimpact signed a consent decree that requires the firm to put $485,000 into the state of Washington’s swear jar — an amount believed to be the largest civil-rights resolution in state history — and excludes Zieve from any involvement in direct hiring decisions.
 
Of course, Electroimpact denies that it broke any laws. Reminds me of a certain world leader who once ran a scam university and agreed to pay $25 million for flimflammery even though he insisted he would have won in court but just didn’t have the time to pursue a long trial because of his onerous golf schedule.
 
Zieve might have a harder time if he were to press his case in court. According to the Washington state attorney general’s office, Electroimpact was clearly responsible for:
 
1. Screening out job applicants who indicated they were Muslim or who Zieve perceived to be Muslim based on names, photographs or other information.
2. Maintaining a listserv where employees discussed and shared “jokes,” many of them demeaning to Muslims.
3. Encouraging employees to engage in conduct degrading Muslims.
4. Recruiting employees to participate in a group opposing construction of a mosque in Mukilteo.
 
There’s more, but you get the picture. Peter Zieve is an intolerant sort who believes he has the right as an employer to behave as he wishes because it’s his company. No doubt, he has many supporters in the business community who bristle at “government overreach” that requires them not to discriminate, not to intimidate, not to alienate.
 
These people would also have us believe that, left to their own devices, business owners will embrace the better angels of their nature and always do the right thing. We who have worked for a variety of business owners know better. Peter Zieve is not an anomaly. There are others like him who need to be reminded, perhaps 485,000 times, that by creating workplaces hostile to certain groups — say, black people, Catholic people, Irish people — they encourage the sort of intervention that government has deemed necessary since the 19th century.
 
Call it overreach if you like. I call it basic human decency.
 
JOHN LEVESQUE is managing editor of Seattle Business magazine. Reach him at john.levesque@tigeroak.com.
 

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