Caught on Tape

Revolutionary Worker #883, November 24, 1996

The Texaco Tapes record a meeting of senior executives in 1994. Robert Ulrich, then treasurer, is heard discussing the discrimination lawsuit against Texaco with David Keough, a senior assistant treasurer, and Richard Lundwall, Senior Personnel Coordinator who recorded the conversation:

Lundwall (referring to Black employees): "They are perpetuating an us/them atmosphere."

Ulrich: "I've heard this diversity thing. You know how black jelly beans agree..."

Lundwall: "That's funny, all the black jelly beans seem to be glued to the bottom of the bag."

Ulrich: "You can't just have we and them. You can't just have black jelly beans and other jelly beans. It doesn't work."

Lundwall: "Yeah. But they're perpetuating the black jelly beans."

Later these executives make racist remarks about Black employees celebrating the African-American holiday of Kwanzaa:

Ulrich: "I'm still getting used to Hanukkah. Now, we have Kwanzaa... Fucking n*ggers, they have shitted all over us with this."

At another point, the executives are heard talking about how a day set aside for employees to clean their desks should have been used to rid the workplace of African artifacts.

The tapes also reveal how the executives tried to withhold incriminating documents in the discrimination case. Ulrich is heard saying, "We're gonna purge the shit out of these books, though. We're not gonna have any damn thing that...we don't need to be in them..." And in court records Ulrich is quoted, referring to one key document, saying: "You know, there is no point in even keeping the restricted version anymore. All it could do is get us in trouble. That's the way I feel. I would not keep anything."

Records obtained by a federal grand jury also indicate that a lawyer for Texaco gave instructions on how to withhold damaging documents from plaintiffs in the discrimination suit. There is a draft memo dated June 24, 1994 which reports the results of a survey of members of Texaco's finance department. The letter, addressed to the employees surveyed, includes results that reveal discrimination at Texaco--including the fact that only 37 percent of the surveyed employees believed that the criteria for promotions were applied consistently and fairly, and that only 38 percent thought they could express such misgivings without fear of retribution.

Attached to the draft is a second memo from Lundwall to a lawyer in Texaco's legal department, asking that the survey be reviewed. At the bottom of this is a handwritten notation that states that the lawyer advised them "to delay publishing survey results to avoid it becoming part of the `discovery' process in the S. Chambers-B. Roberts litigation." (Sil Chamber and Bari-Ellen Roberts are the two named plaintiffs in the discrimination case.)

After the incriminating tapes became public, Texaco hired some investigators to "analyze" the tapes. In a desperate and almost comical move, Texaco tried to say that "a technological enhancement" of the tapes showed that none of the executives used racial epithets. Texaco claimed, Ulrich didn't use the "N word" but had really said "Nicholas"--referring to how "they" had soiled St. Nicholas by celebrating Kwanzaa.

Texaco also claims that the references to "black jelly beans" was not racist, but simply a variation on an analogy taught in a diversity program attended by Texaco executives, in which the various colors of jelly beans are used as an analogy for different races.

But for anyone who hears these tapes, the utter arrogance and racist nastiness in the conversation comes through loud and clear. These high-level executives were making "good ole boy" racist comments--with no idea they were being taped. As one Black employee commented, "It sounded like a KKK meeting."

And even if it were the case that the "N word" was not used--these tapes, testimony by Black employees, and various studies of Texaco hiring and promotion policies make it clear that there is widespread racism and discrimination going on at all levels of the company. And Texaco executives were planning on hiding or destroying incriminating documents to prevent a discrimination suit from exposing all this.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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