. . . And labor won't forget

Lane Kirkland

October 31, 1990|By Lane Kirkland

PRESIDENT BUSH vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1990 out of a professed concern that it would force businesses to resort to quotas in hiring and promoting women and minority workers.

That is nothing less than sheer nonsense.

No provision of the bill would have imposed government-required quotas of any kind. In fact, the bill specifically prohibited quotas. Had this not been the case, the AFL-CIO would not have sought its passage actively. The central point of the legislation was to require employers to show that their hiring or promotional practices bear "a substantial and demonstrable relationship to effective performance on the job." What could be fairer than that? Why should an employer be allowed to turn down women and minority applicants without a job-related reason?

Moreover, the bill would have prevented businesses from discriminating simply because the owners feel that their customers don't want to deal with women and minorities. What's wrong with such a prohibition? Why should employers be allowed to operate on the assumption that America is a prejudiced nation and that customers prefer to do business only with white mailes or only with young unmarried females?

Yet, as far as Bush is concerned, businesses should be allowed to develop discriminatory employment policies if that's what consumers want, and they should have no responsibility to engage in affirmative action in order to help eradicate all vestiges of discrimination in our society.

If that sounds to you like an indefensible position, then you've just figured out why the president waved the bloody shirt of quotas in his veto message.

In the months ahead, the president no doubt will continue to portray his administration as the protector of basic American values, including the belief that people have the opportunity to advance as far as their talents will allow.

But when the belief is transcribed into legislation that would make it a reality for millions of American men and women, this president balked. Instead, he chose to side with forces hostile to working men and women, and to appeal to the worst elements of prejudice and resentment in order to justify his actions.

The labor movement won't easily forget this act of hypocrisy, and we suspect the electorate won't either.

Lane Kirkland is president of the AFL-CIO.

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