Twenty-six years after passage of the civil rights act guaranteeing equal employment opportunities for women, the Labor Department has decided to step up anti-discrimination enforcement at one of the major men's clubs in government: its Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training (BAT).
As part of a wide-ranging program to help women gain access in skilled trades jobs in the manufacturing and construction industries, the department announced yesterday that the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) would be given enforcement authority over federal apprenticeship training programs.
As a result, a high-ranking department official predicted, "a lot of good old boys are going to be unhappy." For years, BAT has been viewed by many in the department as little more than a subsidiary of the construction unions.
Unlike most industries, construction unions train and provide the bulk of the work force through hiring halls.
Of the 400,000 apprentices enrolled in the 45,000 programs registered with the government, the Labor Department said 7 percent were women and about 22 percent were minorities. Women account for 45 percent of the civilian labor force.
Robert A. Georgine, president of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades, said the unions have no objection to bringing women into apprenticeship programs. "The biggest problem we have with women in construction is that they're not applying."
As for the new Labor Department initiative, Georgine said, "I don't see anything that's extraordinary or new," since the department was supposed to be enforcing equal opportunity laws all along.
In announcing the new program for women, Labor Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole said she hoped the enforcement effort would help knock down barriers that have kept women from entering and competing in the skilled trades. The skilled trades include jobs such as electricians, machinists, carpenters and auto mechanics.
"These skilled trades jobs have the potential for greatly improving the economic status of women -- higher wages, better fringe benefits, a wider range of work schedules, greater job security and more opportunities for advancement," Dole said. "For some women, it means the difference between being on welfare and being economically self-sufficient."
Dole said that while there has been a major increase in the number of women in the work force in the last 20 years, the overwhelming majority -- 80 percent -- hold traditionally female jobs, often with low pay.
By granting office of contract compliance enforcement powers over BAT, Dole said, "This action will effectively strengthen equal opportunity employment review due to the additional resources available at OFCCP."
The contract compliance office oversees civil rights enforcement for federal contractors doing more than $50,000 in business with the government.
In addition to the new enforcement program, the department announced it will work with groups involved in training women for "non-traditional" jobs, giving them financial grants and publicizing their work in an effort to boost recruitment.
The department also plans to publish a new Directory of Non-Traditional Training and Employment Programs for Women, which will be prepared by the department's Women's Bureau.