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Affirmative Action Successful in 100 Cities, Report Says

September 18, 1986|LEE MAY | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Voluntary affirmative action programs in more than 100 cities, including more than a dozen in California, have been extremely successful, the U.S. Conference of Mayors says in a report to be released today.

Improved efficiency and productivity, more job satisfaction and better labor-management relations are among the benefits cited in the 20-page report, a copy of which was obtained by The Times.

The report said that affirmative action programs--which take race and gender into account to erase the effects of past or current discrimination in hiring and promoting--have improved procedures for recruitment, hiring and promotions in about two-thirds of the cities studied.

Moreover, according to the study, which was conducted this summer, most cities reported that their affirmative action programs have improved public perception of the quality of services the cities deliver.

In a statement accompanying the report, John G. Gunther, executive director of the conference, said he hopes the report will be useful to Congress, the Reagan Administration, mayors and "others who are concerned about equal employment opportunities and affirmative action as a means of achieving it."

The report, which conference officials call the most comprehensive ever made on the issue, adds to a growing body of evidence that affirmative action is beneficial, despite the Administration's opposition. Administration critics hailed the report's findings.

Barriers Eliminated

Diann Rust-Tierney, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said it "affirms what supporters of civil rights and women's rights have been saying all along--affirmative action works."

In Los Angeles, Stanley J. Gronos, chief personnel analyst for the city, agreed. He said the city's voluntary affirmative action program, begun in 1973, is "quite good. We've eliminated a lot of institutional barriers." Of the city's 40,000 employees, he said, 23.6% are black; 16.8% are Latino; 9.2% are Asian, 50.1% are white and 22.9% are female.

The Administration's opposition to affirmative action programs escalated after a 1984 Supreme Court ruling in a case involving firefighters in Memphis. In that case, the justices struck down a lower court order that had led to white firefighters' being laid off to preserve jobs of blacks with less seniority.

In the wake of that decision, the Justice Department sought to alter affirmative action plans in 51 jurisdictions nationwide. Many cities, including Los Angeles, rejected the effort. "We didn't want any part of it," Gronos said.

High Court Rulings

In two other rulings on affirmative action this summer, the high court made clear that the department had interpreted the 1984 decision too broadly. And, last month, Justice Department officials backed away from efforts to eliminate minority and female quotas in the Indianapolis police and fire departments, a move interpreted as a signal that similar efforts in other cities would be abandoned.

And Administration officials repeatedly have delayed a decision on whether President Reagan should eliminate or alter an executive order requiring hiring goals for women and minorities for federal contractors.

Nevertheless, Terry Eastland, chief spokesman at the Justice Department, said Wednesday that "we're simply going back through (the 51 agreements), case by case, seeing how they are controlled by the Supreme Court."

Eastland said the department remains opposed to affirmative action plans "that are bottomed on race preferences. We support affirmative action that tries to cast a recruiting net far and wide" through training programs and other race- and gender-neutral means.

121 Cities Respond

As for the report by the mayors' group, Eastland said he could not comment on it because he does not know the specifics of each city program studied.

The report received responses from 121 cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and 15 other California cities. Of all the cities, 110 had voluntary programs. A number of them requested confidentiality, but it is known that seven, including Birmingham, Ala., Indianapolis and Boston, initiated programs through court-approved settlements.

The study said that 56% of the cities indicated that their affirmative action programs have "contributed to improvement in the delivery of public services." And it said 89% reported that the programs have helped to identify "better relevant qualifications for certain jobs." This means that a high school education, for example, might be removed from the list of qualifications for a job if it is not necessary to the job's performance.

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