Armed with statistics pointing to alleged "systemic discrimination" against Latinos, leaders of the Los Angeles County Chicano Employees Assn. launched an outspoken new campaign Monday calling on the county to balance the Latino work force with the population.
In a sharp rebuke of the county's affirmative action program, the activist organization claimed that the county has failed in its promises stretching over the last two decades to bring sufficient numbers of Latinos into the 66,000-member county work force.
The association leaders said they welcomed a recently disclosed federal probe into alleged discrimination in the Department of Health Services but called for an investigation into the hiring and promoting of Latinos throughout county government.
Pressure on County
As part of the campaign of pressure on the county, leaders of the association announced plans to hold a news conference today to publicize their concerns and have already started soliciting support from politicians and other prominent figures in the Latino community. The association is also representing more employees bringing individual cases of alleged discrimination before county officials and the county Civil Service Commission in a campaign to make their complaints heard and heeded as never before.
"We believe that institutionalized racism is alive and well in the county and that county government is engaged in systemic discrimination against Latinos," said Raul Nunez, president of the Chicano Employees Assn., which includes 1,100 county workers.
"We find ourselves in a worse-off position than when we started our organization 17 years ago," said Nunez, one of the founders of the Latino employee group.
More than 12,000 county employees today are Latino, or about 18% of the work force--far short of parity with the 27.6% Latino population recorded in the 1980 census.
Efforts Called Ineffective
In comparison, blacks number 30% of the county work force, whites number 41% and Asians about 7%. Only American Indians among ethnic groups are lower than Latinos in numbers of county employees relative to their percentages in the county population, according to county figures.
That discrepancy has prompted Nunez and his group to try to pressure the Board of Supervisors and department heads to step up recruitment and promotion of Latinos and to denounce the county's office of affirmative action compliance as largely ineffective.
Robert Arias, head of the county's affirmative action compliance office, said he understood Nunez's frustration but insisted that the county program is making progress. "It's working in the sense that we are making changes that should have been made a long time ago," he said in an interview. "We're still not where we should be, but we're getting there."
Arias said that recruitment of blacks would suffer if Latinos were hired at the rate that the Latino association wants. Officials of the organization dispute this, saying there are enough recruiting opportunities for both groups in the county ranks.
Last week, The Times reported that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is investigating the county Department of Health Services for "unlawful employment practices" in its treatment of Latinos.
The formal charge by EEOC Commissioner Tony E. Gallegos is that the department has violated portions of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 "by unlawfully discriminating against Hispanics because of their national origin with respect to recruitment, hiring assignment, promotion and other terms or conditions of employment."
The federal investigation reportedly centers on the hiring and promotion practices at the General Hospital portion of County-USC Medical Center and was touched off by individual complaints as well as from information provided by the Los Angeles County Chicano Employees Assn.
Bilingual Skills Lacking
Association leaders provided statistics, based on the county's own figures, that indicated that although several county hospitals were treating large numbers of Latino patients, there were few Latino employees that could provide the bilingual skills and cultural familiarity with them.
For example, Latinos make up 18% of the work force at General Hospital as compared to a patient load that is nearly 60% Latino. At Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital/Charles Drew Medical Center, where more than a third of the patients are Latino, only about 9% of the workers are Latino.
"The struggle is still going on here to get Latinos in the door," said Alan Clayton, equal employment director for the Chicano Employees Assn.
"The problem with this county is a lack of accountability," he added. "The Board of Supervisors could make the department heads comply with their affirmative action goals but they do not. And the department heads choose not to forward that concern to lower-echelon people."