In an attempt to fight fire with fire, an organization of office workers this week sought to turn the weapon of cost-benefit analysis back in the face of businessmen and conservative politicians who have used it to attack affirmative action programs.
"A cost benefit analysis of affirmative action puts the lie to the argument that the costs . . . are too high," said Karen Nussbaum of Working Women, which represents 12,000 office workers nationwide.
The average cost of such a program for a bank, for example, is only 0.01 percent of gross revenues, or $12.50 per employe, according to a report prepared by Working Women. It cites a study by the Business Roundtable as the source of this statistic.
The three major banks studied -- Chase Manhattan, Citicorp, and Continental Illinois -- spent an average of $356,000 on affirmative action in 1977, the study said. With 87,000 employes, they grossed $9.9 billion in revenues.
Each of the banks' executives received salaries considerably higher than the average spent on affirmative action, according to the report.
Citicorp, America's third-largest bank, spent more on auto racing in 1978 than on affirmative action in 1977, the report said. The bank gave more than one-half million dollars to a racing club program in exchange for the drivers displaying Citicorp patches or decals.
Additional costs to the companies are incurred in affirmative action litigation, where "batteries of lawyers spend thousands of hours hoping to avoid Department of Labor remedies," the report stated. "The same money . . . if invested into the company's work force would benefit company and employe alike."
Costs to the federal government, after a streamlining of the program under the Carter administration, are "likewise small," Nussbaum said. The cost of an individual complaint is about $5,000 or less, by government estimate, and the cost of a field investigation of an entire corporation is $10,000.
The Working Women report was designed to counter what the group called an "all-out attack" on affirmative action by the Reagan administration, business and congressmen such as Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who is heading hearings to question its constitutionality.