March 8, 1998 in Nation/World

Changing Face Of Labor Right Or Wrong, Affirmative Action Has Altered Local Workforce

Virginia De Leon Staff writer
 

Stephanie Barkley was nursing her newborn when she saw the ad: “Women and minorities encouraged to apply.”

That was 12 years ago, the first time the Spokane Police Department actively recruited women and people of color.

Barkley, a newspaper reporter, was on maternity leave and had never considered police work.

But thanks to the ad - part of the Police Department’s affirmative action policy - Barkley is now one of 30 female officers patrolling Spokane’s streets.

“I’m here because I’m a good police officer,” Barkley said. “But affirmative action gave me an opportunity. It helped me get to where I am.”

The same policy that helped women like Barkley is under attack in Washington state.

Initiative 200, which is before the Legislature, aims to put an end to preferential treatment programs for women and minorities in state and local government hiring, contracts and college admissions.

Lawmakers have the option to pass it, let it go to the November ballot or place it along with an alternative initiative before the voters. They’re expected to decide which route to take this week, when the legislative session is scheduled to wrap up.

It’s been more than three decades since the federal government officially started affirmative action programs, but they remain as controversial as ever.

Affirmative action is unfair, some say, because it fosters reverse discrimination and applies different standards to certain groups of people.

“The premise is that some groups are not capable and can’t progress on their own without help from the government,” said Janice Moerschel, who helped collect I-200 signatures in Spokane.

“I would be offended if someone said, ‘We gave you this job because we have to hire a woman.’ I want them to say, ‘We’re hiring you because you’re the best person for the job.”’ Others think affirmative action is necessary - not just to diversify the workforce, but also to correct past wrongs committed against women, minorities, veterans and the disabled.

“Those who are part of the privileged group don’t recognize this because they’re always represented,” Barkley said. “They don’t know what affirmative action is and why we should have more women and people of color in the workplace.”

For most people, questions about affirmative action abound: Who benefits? Do people, regardless of gender or race, receive equal treatment when applying for jobs?

Do we even still need it?

‘Good ol’ boys’

Affirmative action was just taking hold nationally when Geoffrey Eng was looking for work in Spokane.

A Spokane native and graduate of Washington State University, Eng returned home in 1978 after earning a degree from Hastings College of Law in San Francisco and practicing law in California.

But the “good ol’ boys” system worked against him as a Chinese-American, he said. Those who did the hiring employed people who were just like them - white men from prominent Spokane families.

Eng eventually found a temporary job with a local law firm but was laid off after nine months. There wasn’t enough work for him, his employer said.

“I didn’t understand the barriers here,” said Eng, now the community colleges’ district director of affirmative action and administrative services. “It shows you the isolation in Spokane. … There were so few minorities and no one reached out for them.”

In 1970, 97 percent of Spokane County’s population was white, but 99 percent of the higher-paid professional and managerial jobs were held by whites, according to the Census Bureau.

There were only 18 black managers and administrators in the entire county, census data show.

Twenty years later, minorities accounted for a larger percentage of the population but remained under-represented in the best-paid fields.

In 1990, 93 percent of the county’s population was white, but whites held 96 percent of the professional and managerial jobs, statistics show.

The small minority population in the Inland Northwest has made it more difficult for employers to meet affirmative action goals. Recruiting is a challenge for many firms.

But organizations have had some success.

The city of Spokane had two African-American employees 20 years ago, said Lydia Sims, the former affirmative action officer for the city. Most women on the city payroll worked as clerks or secretaries.

People got jobs because of who they knew, Sims said. Often, city workers hired in the ‘70s weren’t subjected to the tests that new employees now must take.

“Some had less than a ninth-grade education and were hired during Expo,” Sims recalled. “It’s just maddening to think that now we’re opening doors for women, they suddenly need all these qualifications that people before didn’t need to have.”

In the late 1970s, affirmative action policies - especially those targeting women - took root in the city of Spokane.

“Our focus was to put women in nontraditional types of jobs,” Sims said. “We wanted to break the glass ceiling.”

The best-paying entry level city jobs 20 years ago were police work and firefighting - jobs filled by white men.

So Sims recruited women, especially single mothers. She also established an affirmative action plan so that women and minorities could move up to management positions throughout city government.

In 1985, women accounted for 19 percent of city employees, and minorities made up 3 percent. Last year, 23 percent of employees were women and 7 percent were minorities.

Diversifying the pool

Barkley had the 15th-highest score when she took the civil service test to become a police officer in 1985. More than 230 people had shown up at the Spokane Convention Center to apply.

Although the Police Department needed only 10 new officers, she was considered for a position because of an affirmative action program called supplemental certification.

Just because people don’t score in the top 10 doesn’t mean they aren’t qualified, said Gita Hatcher, the current affirmative action officer for the city of Spokane.

“A person who scores number one is not necessarily more qualified than a person who places number five or seven,” she said.

Supplemental certification isn’t a quota system, Hatcher emphasized. It’s just a way to diversify the pool of possible employees.

Barkley’s experience with affirmative action is typical. Nationally and in Spokane, affirmative action has helped women more than any other group.

In 1970, women made up 39 percent of the civilian labor force and a little more than a third of managerial and professional jobs in Spokane County.

Last year, women made up 46 percent of that labor force, the Washington State Employment Security Office says. More importantly, women accounted for 49 percent of the management and professional jobs in the county.

Because of the Police Department’s recruitment effort, Barkley was one of six women who attended the training academy in 1985. Never before had so many women been admitted at the same time.

It was a groundbreaking event for Spokane. There were only two female patrol officers at the time.

Critics questioned the women’s ability to arrest criminals or shoot .357 Magnums with their “little hands.”

“There was a misperception that women were indecisive and afraid. It took time for them to realize that men and women do the job differently,” said Barkley, noting that men tend to be task oriented while women generally focus on building relationships.

Although Barkley stood out 12 years ago because of her gender, few people these days raise their eyebrows when they see her in uniform.

“It’s become OK to spend a little more time talking and being sensitive before” making an arrest, said Barkley, who is 37. “Having women police officers is part of community-oriented police work.”

Are the gains enough?

Because of affirmative action, minorities are attending public universities at higher rates, the Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board says.

The number of students of color at public baccalaureate institutions increased by nearly 30 percent after the board adopted a minority participation and diversity policy in 1991. The numbers rose by 44 percent at community and technical colleges.

Women and minorities are becoming more visible in government jobs, managerial positions and other aspects of society.

But not all groups share equally in the gains.

Numbers from the state’s employment security office show that although Hispanics and Asians are faring better in Spokane County, blacks and American Indians are still behind. Less than 1 percent of all managers and professionals are black or Native American.

In Washington’s public universities, retention rates for Asians and Pacific Islanders remained high compared with all other students between 1990 and 1996. But retention rates for African Americans - both freshmen and transfers - appeared to be on the decline, the Higher Education Coordinating Board says.

If Initiative 200 becomes law, those people will fall farther behind, affirmative action supporters say. They point to California’s experience as evidence.

When a similar law, Proposition 209, passed in California two years ago, minority admissions in public universities decreased.

Boalt Hall Law School at the University of California, Berkeley, for example, admitted 80 percent fewer black students and 50 percent fewer Hispanics.

It’s unclear how I-200 would affect public universities in Washington, said Linda Schactler of the Higher Education Coordinating Board, but it could end some scholarship programs and nonfederal gender-equity goals.

Without the scholarships, college campuses may become less diverse - especially in Eastern Washington.

But diversity shouldn’t be achieved by taking from one group and giving to another, I-200 supporters say. It’s unfair to use skin color to determine who gets a scholarship or who should be admitted to college.

Still, the approval of the initiative also would mean fewer stories like Barkley’s, Hatcher said. I-200 would end supplemental certification, the city program that helped Barkley get her job.

Initiative 200 “will undermine affirmative action efforts,” Sims said. “How else will women and minorities be part of the mainstream?”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 Color)

3 Graphics: 1. Diversity in the Inland Northwest; 2. Changes in the job market; 3. Growing numbers of minorities in college

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story:

1. What it means

Affirmative action refers to a variety of policies that require a “good faith effort” by employers and government agencies to address past or present discrimination by doing one or all of the following:

Recruiting to expand the candidate pool for job openings.

Evaluating the methods companies use to hire employees.

Revising ways to recognize an employee’s talent and performance.

Establishing goals and timetables for hiring under-represented groups.

Affirmative action doesn’t just help women and minorities.

It also aids veterans, people with disabilities and older people. In fact, people of color represented less than 22 percent state workers covered by affirmative action in 1995, according to the Washington State Department of Personnel.

The civil rights movement helped women and minorities, but they still lagged when it came to employment and education.

That’s why the government turned to race- and gender-conscious remedies.

Title VII, which outlaws discrimination and established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, was enacted as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In 1970, President Nixon required federal contractors to set goals and timetables for hiring women and minority-owned firms. Two years later, Congress strengthened federal civil rights laws.

Sources: “Affirmative Action: Myths Versus Facts” and the White House.

2. Initiative 200

The first sentence of Initiative 200 says: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”

It is modeled on a proposition approved by California voters in 1996.

Both California’s Proposition 209 and Washington’s I-200 were written by the American Civil Rights Institute of Sacramento. The institute is working on a national campaign to end affirmative action nationwide.

Sponsors call I-200 the Washington State Civil Rights Initiative. They say it would end the preferential treatment women and minorities receive in hiring, contracting and school enrollment in state and local government. Everyone would be treated equally, initiative supporters contend.

Opponents say it’s divisive and unnecessary. Because the initiative doesn’t use the words “affirmative action,” it unfairly targets women and minorities, they say.

In addition to women and people of color, affirmative action helps veterans, people with disabilities and older people. I-200 wouldn’t affect these groups, which are often composed of whites.

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. What it means Affirmative action refers to a variety of policies that require a “good faith effort” by employers and government agencies to address past or present discrimination by doing one or all of the following: Recruiting to expand the candidate pool for job openings. Evaluating the methods companies use to hire employees. Revising ways to recognize an employee’s talent and performance. Establishing goals and timetables for hiring under-represented groups. Affirmative action doesn’t just help women and minorities. It also aids veterans, people with disabilities and older people. In fact, people of color represented less than 22 percent state workers covered by affirmative action in 1995, according to the Washington State Department of Personnel. The civil rights movement helped women and minorities, but they still lagged when it came to employment and education. That’s why the government turned to race- and gender-conscious remedies. Title VII, which outlaws discrimination and established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, was enacted as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1970, President Nixon required federal contractors to set goals and timetables for hiring women and minority-owned firms. Two years later, Congress strengthened federal civil rights laws. Sources: “Affirmative Action: Myths Versus Facts” and the White House.

2. Initiative 200 The first sentence of Initiative 200 says: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” It is modeled on a proposition approved by California voters in 1996. Both California’s Proposition 209 and Washington’s I-200 were written by the American Civil Rights Institute of Sacramento. The institute is working on a national campaign to end affirmative action nationwide. Sponsors call I-200 the Washington State Civil Rights Initiative. They say it would end the preferential treatment women and minorities receive in hiring, contracting and school enrollment in state and local government. Everyone would be treated equally, initiative supporters contend. Opponents say it’s divisive and unnecessary. Because the initiative doesn’t use the words “affirmative action,” it unfairly targets women and minorities, they say. In addition to women and people of color, affirmative action helps veterans, people with disabilities and older people. I-200 wouldn’t affect these groups, which are often composed of whites.


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