Aerospace Firms Target of GAO Discrimination Investigation

Times Staff Writer

Charging that aerospace companies have made "minimal" progress in hiring and promoting women and minorities in Southern California, six Democratic congressmen have instructed the General Accounting Office to investigate employment discrimination in the industry.

The order follows repeated complaints to the congressmen from Los Angeles area residents over the last decade and at an October hearing at which employees of Hughes Aircraft, TRW, McDonnell Douglas and other defense contractors described acts and practices they considered discriminatory.

"Companies that contract with the federal government are using taxpayers' money to discriminate against people," Rep. Matthew G. Martinez (D-Montebello), chairman of the House subcommittee on employment opportunities, said Wednesday. Martinez was joined in demanding the inquiry by Reps. Augustus F. Hawkins and Edward R. Roybal of Los Angeles, Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally of Compton, Rep. Ronald V. Dellums of Berkeley and Rep. Patricia Schroeder of Colorado.

Other companies whose employment practices nationwide will be studied are Rockwell International, General Dynamics, Northrop, Lockheed and Litton Industries. The eight firms are among the largest industrial employers in the Los Angeles area. In 1985, their federal contracts totaled $38.6 billion--about 21% of all federal contract dollars, the congressmen said in a letter ordering the investigation last week.

Response from the aerospace companies ranged from questioning the need for the inquiry to acknowledging the industry's difficulty in hiring minority employees.

Michael J. Murphy, a spokesman for Hughes Aircraft, said a GAO investigation would duplicate inquiries by other government agencies and would find no problems at Hughes. "If a GAO study is undertaken, we believe it will demonstrate that Hughes has an effective affirmative action program," he said.

More than 40 Hughes employees attended the October hearing conducted by Martinez's subcommittee. Two of the workers, both black, said they were promoted only after filing complaints with the federal government. A company official acknowledged that a Hughes manager was reprimanded for displaying a Confederate flag in his office.

However, the official also testified that employment of minorities and women at Hughes had climbed dramatically in the last 20 years.

Kenneth G. Patton, director of compliance and urban affairs for Rockwell International, said Wednesday that the small number of non whites and women trained in the technical skills required by aerospace firms has slowed the industry's affirmative action efforts.

Limited Availability Pool

"Given the very limited availability of blacks and Hispanics in the highly skilled occupations employed in Rockwell or the aerospace industry or any other high-technology industry, it's a matter of doing as well as you can in the limited availability pool," Patton said.

Northrop spokesman Greg Waskul noted that the Century City-based firm supports programs at several universities to increase the number of minority and female engineers. "We've done better than the overall industry average in hiring black and Hispanic engineers, but it's still tough," Waskul said. "It's difficult to find them."

In their letter to the GAO, the congressmen said a preliminary analysis of minority employment statistics provided by the eight companies indicated that "progress made by women and minorities since 1979 has been minimal at best."

Martinez said the aerospace firms could do a better job of promoting minority and female workers in non-technical fields. "There's no reason why, in all this time, they haven't been able to bring people up to the upper management levels," he said.

Continuing Scrutiny

While Martinez said he hoped continuing congressional scrutiny would be enough to nudge the defense firms into stronger affirmative action efforts, he held out the possibility that Congress would urge federal regulators to bar firms with inadequate programs from obtaining further federal contracts.

"I would not like to see anyone debarred, because that costs jobs, but if it takes that to make these people realize they're not complying with affirmative action, they should be," Martinez said.

The Los Angeles chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People received more complaints last year about employment discrimination in aerospace firms than in any other industry, according to James Foster, an NAACP volunteer attorney.

"They will hire minority people," Foster said. "The problem is advancement and promotion--and it's particularly relevant to black women, because very rarely will an (aerospace) employer have black women supervise white males."

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