October 1, 1997 in Nation/World

Seminar Discusses Affirmative Action

Virginia De Leon Staff writer

The black-and-white photo served as a reminder: two drinking fountains, each with a sign. One said “white,” the other “colored.”

“That was an American attitude,” said Bill Sweigert, human resources director for Associated Industries of the Inland Northwest.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act brought the signs down, he said. But the attitude didn’t go away completely.

That’s the historical context of affirmative action, he said Tuesday at a seminar called “Surviving an Affirmative Action Audit and Beyond.”

People representing about 30 area companies attended the class.

Affirmative action isn’t dead, Sweigert said, despite recent court rulings and proposed laws. Washington state’s Initiative 200, for example, would ban preferential treatment based on race and sex in public employment, college admission and contracting.

There are different types of affirmative action, Sweigert said, and the laws protect ethnic and religious minorities, women, disabled people and veterans.

“Affirmative action was put into place because we have this great American dream of fair play, and we haven’t realized it yet,” said Woody Gilliland, deputy regional director in San Francisco for the federal Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. The OFCP is the only federal agency which enforces affirmative action in employment.

“Preferential treatment has never been part of affirmative action,” Gilliland said. “Affirmative action is a policy of inclusion, not exclusion. It’s about getting the candidates into the pool and getting the best selection possible.”

Tuesday’s seminar dealt with the nuts and bolts of affirmative action from the types of documents needed for a compliance review to questions about age and marital status that employers should never ask job applicants.

Gilliland also explained some of the new affirmative action laws affecting companies that do business with the federal government:

Contractors no longer have to send the OFCCP a certificate stating that its facilities don’t segregate on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin;

Contractors must maintain personnel records, including applications, resumes and interview notes for one to two years;

Instead of a compliance review - an evaluation of a contractor’s employment practices, including the results of affirmative action efforts - contracting companies may simply receive an on-site visit, an offsite review of records or a review of specific employment practices;

Companies that don’t follow affirmative action won’t be allowed to sign contracts with the government for an indefinite term or for a minimum period of six months. Before, some contractors that broke the rules were immediately reinstated, Gilliland said.

Enforcement of some laws began this month and enforcement of others will begin after they go into effect within the next six months, Gilliland said.

Copies of the new rules are available by calling (202) 219-9430 (voice), 1-800-326-2577 (TDD). They’re also available on the Internet at http://www.dol.gov/dol/esa

“I’m interested in seeing minorities get a fair shot,” said Wanda Ferguson of Spokane Industries Inc., who attended Tuesday’s seminar. “Competent people lose confidence because they’ve been knocked down so many times. … Coming from the South, I’m interested in seeing justice and fairness.”

, DataTimes

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