Important elements of organized labor are preparing to tell the Sumpreme Court they support the concept of affirmative action and the voluntary use of racial quotas by employers and unions.
Laurence S. Gold, special counsel for the AFL-CIO, said yesterday his organization will file a friend-of-the-court brief, urging the justices to reject a reverse-discrimination file by a white Louisiana factory worker, Brian F. Weber.
Weber claims his rights were violated when his union, The United Steelworkers of America, and his employers The Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corp., agreed in a collective bargaining to guarantee racial minorities half of all positions in a nationwide training program for skilled jobs. Both are defendants in his lawsuit.
A spokesman for the United Auto Workers said yesterday that his union also is working on a draft of a proposed brief in support of affirmative action. But he emphasized that the UAW has not yet decided whether to take part in the Weber case. "If we file a brief at all, it will be on the side of the steelworkers," he said.
Labour officials acknowledged that affirmative action is considered a "sensitive area" for unions-particularly skilled craft unions. In the past, some white rank-and-file union members were being hampered by the use of racial quotas.
At times, union leaders have registered their own protests. Nine years ago, when the Nixon administration sought in its "Philadelphia plan" to try to obtain a 20 percent black work force on construction contracts, AFL-CIO President George Meany denounced the "quota system" as "illegal and un-American."
Gold said the AFL-CIO's legal brief will reflect the organization's position that "we're in favor of affirmative action, but we're against government-imposed quotas." The federal government never ordered Kaiser of the steelworkers to adopt the program Weber is challenging.
"We think this program was the kind of permissible private arrangement that employers and unions can work out by themselves," Gold said. "Unions can work out different solutions on affirmative action, based on their own perceptions of their priorities and needs."