The Labor Department's embattled proposals to revamp job discrimination rules for federal contractors cleared a hurdle yesterday when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission approved them, 4 to 0. Nevertheless, the fate of the proposals remains uncertain.
The commission's approval came after Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) agreed to drop certain elements of its plan, such as limiting back-pay awards as a remedy after a finding of job bias.
But there is a widespread feeling that the proposed regulations still are viewed by some White House aides as political poison and will never be issued. They have aggravated women, blacks and Hispanics at a time when the Reagan administration is trying to mend fences with those constituencies. They have also failed to please business groups, who view them as too timid, and conservatives, who oppose affirmative action hiring goals.
Stalled by opposition for more than two years, the proposals will now go to the Office of Management and Budget for review.
Following two months of consultations between the EEOC and the OFCCP, the latter agreed, among other things, to moderate its proposal to allow back-pay awards only to individuals who can show personal economic loss resulting from job discrimination instead of permitting such awards to broad "classes" of workers.
The revised proposals state that "it may be appropriate for distribution of back pay to members of a class who have a presumptive entitlement to relief and where the employer doesn't demonstrate that individual employment decisions were made for lawful reasons" or where officials can not "identify individual victims" or calculate their losses.
The OFCCP refused to make other changes requested by the EEOC.
According to Arkie Byrd, an attorney for the Women's Legal Defense Fund, the proposals would gut the affirmative action program. "They made some progress, but they leave out major concerns of ours."
Noting the White House's concern about the "gender gap," women's weaker support for President Reagan as compared with men, Byrd said that she can't imagine administration officials approving the proposals. "We would be elated if these regs never see the light of day."
The thrust of the proposed changes is to ease the paperwork burden on smaller federal contractors, shrinking the scope of the affirmative-action regulations and loosening rigid statistical formulas for hiring female and minority employes.
An OFCCP spokesman declined to comment on the proposals.
The regulations affect some 27 million U.S. employes of companies who do business with the government.