A union representing employees at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Monday filed a mass grievance against the agency over its handling of a political appointee’s racist blog posts, calling for his removal.
Eric Blankenstein, a CFPB policy director, had been appointed by the Trump administration to oversee, among other issues, enforcement of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, a piece of civil rights legislation that protects minorities from discriminatory lending practices.
In September, The Washington Post reported that he anonymously penned a number of racist blog posts in 2004 in part arguing that use of racial slurs merely makes a person an “asshole,” not a racist. He also claimed that “hate crime hoaxes are about three times as prevalent as actual hate crimes.”
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In comments to The Post, Blankenstein acknowledged writing the posts, but described any questions about his ability to enforce fair lending laws as being offered “in bad faith.” According to a filing from the National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 335, agency leadership’s actions and Blankenstein’s continued employment violate the union's contract, which states that the workplace must be “free of discrimination,” and that mid-term bargaining related to the reorganization of the fair lending office was conducted in bad faith by management. The NTEU chapter represents employees at CFPB, including those in the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity.
“Mr. Blankenstein’s email [to staff] did not contain the words ‘apologize’ or ‘sorry,’ and he did little more than express ‘regret’ for having used ‘intentionally provocative language’ to discuss ‘issues of the day,’” the grievance stated.
NTEU wrote that Blankenstein’s blog posts made some employees uncomfortable to interact with him, and that a statement by acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney encouraging all employees to state their personal views “on their own time” could have a negative impact on employee morale.
“[Bargaining unit] members said this statement is ambiguous and made them very uncomfortable,” the grievance said. “Mr. Mulvaney is either saying he condones Mr. Blankenstein’s statements as long as they take place outside the office, or he is advising the [bargaining unit] not to discuss their concerns about the situation at work. Members say these emails from senior leadership have had a chilling effect on the office and have acted only to reinforce what has been described by [bargaining unit] members as a hostile environment.”
The union said that career managers have been stuck in the middle of this conflict, looking to make the best of a bad situation.
“Mid-management, who has been tasked with the difficult role of mitigating the effects of the situation, have met and made themselves available to [bargaining unit] members and have heard their concerns about working with Mr. Blankenstein,” NTEU wrote. “Those managers have proposed possible workarounds, however, available alternatives only further stigmatize members of a protected class.”
NTEU also argued that Blankenstein’s blog posts call into question mid-term bargaining between the union and management over the planned reorganization of the fair lending office, which is slated to be downsized and moved directly under the purview of the CFPB director.
“Although the bureau has maintained that this reorganization will not impact the bureau’s obligation to conduct regulatory and enforcement work with respect to federal fair-lending laws, under the OFLEO reorganization, staff previously dedicated to fair-lending work are being reassigned to offices that are not dedicated to such work and nothing in the reorganization says they will continue their fair-lending work,” the grievance stated. “Because of Mr. Blankenstein’s supervisory role in [the Division of Supervision, Enforcement and Fair Lending], these facts are especially problematic.”
In addition to calling for Blankenstein’s removal, NTEU demanded that the reorganization of the fair lending office be halted until a new round of bargaining can take place.
A CFPB spokesperson declined to comment because the grievance is a "personnel matter."