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Court Sets Hiring Goal for Female Carpenters

September 10, 1996| From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court ordered a 20% female hiring goal Monday for Northern California's apprentice carpenters' program, which is less than 3% female more than 20 years after being sued.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the affirmative action program was justified by repeated efforts of the Joint Apprenticeship Training Council, a committee of employers and the Carpenters Union, to maintain a system that kept women out.

"Women historically have been systematically excluded from carpentry work and for more than two decades have sought relief through the courts while the JATC, the craft's gatekeeping organization, has waged a relentless battle to preserve the status quo," said Judge Betty Fletcher in the 3-0 ruling.

"Given the JATC's decades-long history of recalcitrance and foot-dragging, it is highly unlikely that the JATC will facilitate or even permit the entry of women into the apprenticeship program on equal footing with men without clear numerical goals."

The court also ordered an end to the system of allowing a contractor to ask a union for a particular carpentry apprentice, by name, for the first job that the apprentice needed to begin a four-year training program. The court said the so-called "hunting license" system has resulted in a disproportionate selection of men for apprenticeships.

The ruling was praised by Alberta Blumin, lawyer for Linda Eldredge of San Francisco, who sued the apprenticeship council in 1975 after being rejected for admission.

"It's important that the skilled trades really open up to minorities and women," Blumin said. "The carpenters apprenticeship program should have been in the lead in terms of eliminating the system and shouldn't have been fighting [to defend] it in court for 20 years. Women deserve these highly paid jobs as much as men do and in order to get them they need the training that men get."

Victor Van Bourg, a lawyer for the apprenticeship council, said the ruling would probably be appealed.

"The hunting license is a system that is preferred by ethnic minorities," he said. "They have succeeded under that system."

The apprenticeship program, covering 46 counties, provides four years of classroom training and on-the-job experience and leads to journeyman status. To begin the program, an applicant must get a job with a union contractor. Two hiring systems have been used: the "hunting license," with personal selection of an employee, and referrals from a numerical list kept by the union.

The court said most employers have used the hunting license system and have chosen men more often than not. The admission rate of female applicants was 54% of the male admission rate from 1976 through 1984, and 48% of the male rate from 1985 through 1990. With male applicants greatly outnumbering females, women have made up less than 3% of each entering group of apprentices, the court said.

Because the program is the product of a court order under federal law, she said, it would survive a repeal of state affirmative action programs under Proposition 209 on the November ballot.

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