State Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) and conservative members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors clashed angrily Tuesday over whether the county discriminates against Latinos in its hiring and promotion practices.
Torres said that "discrimination occurs as a matter of rule rather than exception" in county employment.
"We're always being told 'Where are these qualified Hispanic employees?' " Torres said. "It's not our responsibility to bring them to you. It's your responsibility to establish the recruiting procedures to get them."
His rare appearance before the board followed complaints filed recently against the county by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The complaints allege discrimination by the county in its hiring practices and against its Latino employees. Latinos account for about 20% of the county work force.
Torres urged supervisors to hire an independent monitor to "assess what's going on in terms of job discrimination. Your affirmative actions office hasn't done its job with respect to Latino employment."
His remarks brought an angry reaction from conservative Supervisors Pete Schabarum and Mike Antonovich.
Schabarum said that no Latinos have brought complaints of discrimination to his office. Torres said that Latinos probably did not seek Schabarum's help "because they didn't feel there was any kind of support from you."
"Don't get too racist on me," Schabarum replied.
Torres responded, "I've never called you a racist. . . . I've had every inclination and evidence to suggest that might be the case, but I've never concluded that."
Supervisor Kenneth Hahn interrupted, "Remember senator, he's part Latino." Schabarum has stated he is Latino because his grandmother was Mexican.
Antonovich argued that Torres was promoting quotas by advocating that the county work force reflect the county's 37% Latino population. Torres denied that he is advocating quotas.
"You're trying to use racism, and racism is wrong," Antonovich told Torres.
The confrontation ended on a humorous note.
Schabarum advised Torres that he received better treatment from the supervisors than they receive in the state Capitol.
Torres recalled Schabarum's recent visit to Sacramento, where Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) refused to allow Schabarum to be introduced on the Assembly floor.
Torres said, "If you would have been to the Senate, I would have introduced you personally, as Pedro Schabarum."