A resolution to put teeth into a two-year-old pledge by the Senate to bar discrimination in its own hiring may die on the Senate calendar this year. Supporters say it would pass easily if brought to the floor.
The resolution, which creates a six-member board to decide discrimination complaints, was approved by two committees last spring. The office of Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D.W.Va.) said it has not reached the floor because of the crush of more urgent business.
"There are so many things he would like to get to - energy legislation, a tax bill, numerous appropriations bills - and there's so little time left" before the Oct. 13 adjournment, an aide to Byrd said.
But supporters of the measure, including civil rights, women's and Senate staff organizations said they think it has not reached the floor because some senators who privately opposed it would feel compelled to vote for it.
League of Women Voters leaders consider it"unconscionable that the Senate, which should be setting a national example, has exempted itself" from fair employment standards, said national president Ruth Hinerfeld. "Members will hear from us."
The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights executive committee has expressed "grave concern" that the Senate won't bring the matter to a vote. That would "serve as an indictment to the Senate," heads of the labor, civic and religious coalition said.
The resolution would add an enforcement structure to the Senate's unanimous agreement in 1976 to abolish job discrimination, which was incorporated into the 1977 Senate ethics code.
Congress, with 6,000 Senate employes and more than 11,000 on the House side, is exempt from the Civil Rights Act, Equal Pay Act and other federal laws banning employment discrimination based on race, sex, religion and other individual characteristics.
One result has been surveys and individual complaints in recent years labeling members unfair in hiring, salaries, assignments and other employment practices.
The Capitol Hill Women's Political Caucus last year reported that the median salary for women staffers is 56 per cent of that for males. Black Senate Staffers, another employes' group, said only 30 of about 1,100 professionals on Senate staffs are black.
Critics say the measure would limit senators' freedom to hire for political and geographic reasons.
"They can still hire who they want, but it can also be blacks and women," replied Kevin Murray of the Coalition for Equal Employment in Congress.
Several of the resolution's 23 consponsors dispute the claim that it is doomed for this year. Sen. Charles Percy (R-Ill.) noted that he and 15 supporters signed a letter urging action in July. Sen. Dick Clark (D-Iowa) said it would be "a serious mistake to sweep this proposal under the rug after we've come this far."
If the measure is not voted on this year it would constitute "wholesale hypocrisy" by Byrd, said Leadership Conference lawyer Joseph Rauh. "He holds bills off the floor when they can't pass; now he holds this off the floor for exactly the opposite reason," Rauh said.
Adoption of the Senate resolution is also needed to spur similar action in the House, where 108 of 435 members have signed a voluntary agreement against discrimination, according to Carla Kish, a staff member who chairs the voluntary board. Members who signed are "mostly just those who have their offices in order," Kish said.