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Equal Opportunity Laws Should Not
Be Suspended in Hurricane Katrina Crisis

AAAA Opposes Department of Labor’s Exemption
of Katrina Contractors from Affirmative Action Rules

by Shirley J. Wilcher
Washington, D.C.

The American Association for Affirmative Action (AAAA), an organization of professionals managing equal employment opportunity (EEO), affirmative action and diversity programs in higher education, government and private industry, urged the Secretary of Labor not to exempt federal contractors working on Hurricane Katrina projects from complying with federal affirmative action laws.

Under Executive Order 11246 and its implementing regulations, federal contractors having 50 or more employees and $50,000 in federal contracts must prepare a written affirmative action program. The Executive Order, signed by former President Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1965, requires both nondiscrimination and affirmative action. The written affirmative action program enables contractors to monitor their workforces, identify and eliminate barriers to equal employment opportunity, including hiring discrimination and unequal pay. Quotas are prohibited.

On September 9, 2005, the Department of Labor signed a memorandum advising contracting agencies that under the National Interest Exemption of the Order, companies receiving new contracts would not be required to comply with the affirmative action program requirements. Section 204 of Executive Order 11246 grants the Secretary of Labor the authority to exempt a contracting agency from the requirement of having an affirmative action program in the case of special circumstances in the national interest. “Equal opportunity laws should never take a holiday, even in the direst of circumstances” said Robert W. Ethridge, president of the American Association for Affirmative Action.

Companies who are currently federal contractors are not exempt from the Executive Order and new contractors have 120 days to prepare an affirmative action program. “Four months should be ample time to prepare a document that advances the interest of the federal government to prevent discrimination on projects funded by taxpayers,” he said. Small contractors have abbreviated requirements for preparing a program. Moreover, affirmative action programs are not required to be submitted to the OFCCP (Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs) unless a compliance review is scheduled. Approximately 3% of the federal contractor universe is reviewed annually.

“Without the protections of Executive Order 11246 and other laws enforced by OFCCP, including the Rehabilitation Act and the Vietnam Era Veterans Act, women, minorities, individuals with disabilities and disabled veterans may be the last to benefit from employment opportunities created by federal construction and restoration projects.”

The Bush Administration has been criticized for racial insensitivity in responding to the crisis caused by Hurricane Katrina. Ethridge added, “The Labor Department should not exacerbate this perception by exempting federal nondiscrimination programs that would enable historically disadvantaged Americans who are qualified to compete for jobs the dignity that comes from gainful employment.”

About the Author: Shirley Wilcher is interim executive director American Association for Affirmative Action.

Published in In Motion Magazine October 13, 2005.

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