Minorities and women are "severely under-represented" in leadership roles in labor unions, according to a new study by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Minority men held 5 percent of the 294 executive board positions in 11 major unions surveyed by the commission. Minority women occupied 2 percent of the executive offices, and white women held 4 percent, the report said.

By comparison, minorities accounted for about 15 percent of the rank-and-file memberships in the surveyed unions, and women constituted nearly 27 percent of the more than 10.2 million members represented by unions in the study.

"We have found that the unions in our survey were either unaware of or did not oppose the use of selection procedures that may have an adverse effect on minorities and women; that women and minorities were severely underrepresented in leadership positions in the surveyed unions; and, further, that the surveyed unions have a mixed record in the establishment of programs designed to ensure equal opportunity in the workplace," according to the 116-page report, "Nonreferral Unions and Equal Opportunity."

Nonreferral unions are those that have no direct influence on a company's hiring practices. Other unions, particularly those in the construction and maritime trades, are referral organizations that exercise considerable influence over job placement.

The unions in the survey could help bring about fairer hiring and promotional practices for women and minorities, especially in the collective bargaining process. But the unions fail to take advantage of such opportunities, largely because of the scant representation of women and minorities in leadership ranks, the report said.

The report notes that the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor federation, has attempted to correct the imbalance in race and sex representation by placing two women, one of them black, on its 35-member executive board, which also has one black man. Individual unions have taken similar steps, but "the unequal status of minorities and women remains," the report said.

An AFL-CIO spokesman, Rex Hardesty, said yesterday that the federation is "in no position to argue" that inequality has been overcome. "But we have made an extensive effort to correct it," he said, "and we're doing a better job than most institutions."

The unions in the survey included the United Auto Workers, United Steelworkers, International Association of Machinists, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Retail Clerks International Union, Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, Communications Workers of America, Service Employes International Union, Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America, International Ladies Garment Workers Union and the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the nation's largest union, participated in some parts of the survey, but declined to provide information on its leadership, the report said.