How many times do you get in your car to go somewhere and take for granted that there is a road connecting you to your destination? Probably everytime? How often do you think of the person you have to thank for that? A large part of the thanks is should go to Charles Haynie.
Haynie said that he is the first and only Black foreman heading the chipping crew working for Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, or PennDOT for short.
“Chipping operation is an oil chip we go out and spray the roads with oil and we go over them with chip stones to preserve the road so we don’t have to pave it. We do that on the secondary and tertiary roads instead of the mainline roads,” Haynie said.
It would be far more expensive to repave every road that needs repairs so by “chipping” as it’s called, the life of a road that receives less traffic than a main road allows it to go longer without repairs while still keeping it drivable.
While it might not seem like glamourous work, it’s essential work and work that has been extremely hard to come by for any person of color. Since 1994 Haynie said he has suffered countless slights, and has been passed over several times only to see White candidates with less experience get the job. What he has gone through he said is still nothing compared to what his forefathers went through before he got there.
“Back before my time in the late ‘80s early ‘90s I heard they had to go to Harrisburg just to drive the trucks. I was here back when they didn’t even want Black folks to even drive snow and plow trucks. They thought all we were good for was a mop, a shovel, a broom that’s all they wanted to see us do, and cleaning windows. In some ways it’s still like that. They don’t really have any Blacks operating any major equipment.”
Haynie, was born in September of 1963, one month after Dr. King’s I have a dream speech. He started working in road construction in 1981 with Palmieri Construction. From 1986-1993 he was with Paulson Asphalt. When he joined PennDOT in 1994 he had already amassed a 13 year career. According to Haynie, the problems from the eighties continued to dog him into the nineties as he tried to increase his proficiency in his field and gain more experience.
“I tried to get certified on every piece of major equipment they had before I became a foreman,” Haynie said. “There was an issue back in the ‘90s back when I was trying to get certified on a widener which is an asphalt machine. They decided they already had too many, but they only had two.
“Now everybody and their mother is certified to use a widener and they’re all White. Not one Black.” Five out of the 21 of Haynie’s crew is Black.
It was no major accomplishment in his eyes when in 2001 he was finally selected to be the headman on the road as the foreman. In a small way, it seems Haynie was disappointed, in part because of how he was selected and the small victory he perceives for the people who had held him back for years.
“I had two White foremen in front of me but they didn’t want it. So they had no choice but to come to me. They loved that because once I became a foreman that put me out of operating equipment.”
But with the bitter came the sweet. Haynie now appreciates his job at the top in a way only someone who has been jilted and left at the bottom can.
“Now I’m leading people that can’t stand to see me lead them but they have no choice because this is the job,” he said. “So you don’t want to work for me because of my skin color you can go work for someone else. That’s my take on it.”
Unfazed by the scope of his own accomplishments and jaded from close to 30 years of being overlooked and underappreciated Hainey shows all the signs of a straight shooting cowboy that has finished fighting bad guys and ready to ride off into the sunset.
Hainey has some words of advice to the future Black road workers to be.
“Keep your composure. If they tell you no you keep going forward. If it is something that you want, you’re going to have to bang for it to get it.”
There have been Black foremen in other areas at PennDOT but Haynie said he doesn’t know of any currently.
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