The 13th biennial AFL-CIO convention ended yesterday with the approval of a proposal designed to help increase the number of women and minorities on the federation's all-male, predominantly white executive council. m
The proposal authorizes the creation of a 15-member council committee to explore ways of changing federation laws and practices that have worked to exclude minorities and women from AFL-CIO leadership positions.
Yesterday's action, strongly supported by newly elected ALF-CIO President Lane Kirkland, marks a major departure from federation practice under former AFL-CIO President George Meany. r
Meany staunchly supported the federation's tradition of allowing only "principal" union officers -- presidents and persons ranked as secretary-treasurer -- to serve on the federation's 35-member council.
That long-held custom resulted in the virtual exclusion of women and minorities from membership on the council, which sets policy for the 13-6 million-member federation.
Presently, only one of the 35 council members is black. He is Frederick O'Neal, president of the Associated Actors and Artists of America.
By comparison, women account for roughly 30 percent of the federation's membership, while blacks account for 25 percent.
Those figures are similar to the percentages of women and minorities in the total, national organized labor force of 22.6 million. Women maybe up 23.5 percent of that group, blacks account for 14 percent, and Hispanics account for 4.9 percent.
However, according to research done by minority and women AFL-CIO delegates who pushed for yesterday's affirmative -- action proposal, there are only 19 principal women officers out of a total of 324 national and international union executives. Of the 2,170 members serving on executive boards in AFL-CIO affiliates, only 144 are women.
Kirkland said he is confident that other council members will not object to new practices designed to increase the panel's female and minority representation.
"I don't believe that members of this council think that the earth would split and things would fall apart if on occasion, when faced with an issue of this significance, we departed . . . from time-honored custom, traditions and principles that have been followed," Kirkland said.
"We take the matter seriously, and we do intend to proceed along those lines."
Kirkland's remarks won prompt praise from Addie Wyatt, a black woman who is vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers and who has been one of the leading advocates of increasing the number of women and minorities on the executive council.
"It's a drastic change for him to make this kind of commitment," Wyatt said. "It's the first time that anything like this has ever been done. wWe have a long way to go, but under Lane Kirkland hope and I think we can correct the past imbalances," she said.
The 15-member affirmative-action committee appointed by Kirkland yesterday is made up of the most senior members of the executive council.
Wyatt and others said the committee possibly could bring about changes in the entire structure of the AFL-CIO and its 105 affiliates.
"That kind of change is needed," Wyatt said. "We've got to fight to make reasonably sure that the labor movement is a movement that utilizes the strengths and talents of all of its people."
In related events yesterday, Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Patricia Roberts Harris urged the AFL-CIO to support President Carter's national health insurance plan, now before Congress.
She said the plan would protect all Americans against the catastrophic costs of catastrophic illness, encourage the development of preventive health services "and improve access to health care for everyone."