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WHY THEY HATE CCRI

11:00 PM, Oct 27, 1996 • By HEATHER MAC DONALD
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Southern California Edison, the second largest electric utility in the country, is also pelting its employees with pro-affirmative action videos and pamphlets. The CEOs of Chevron and Atlantic Richfield, at the urging of their equal opportunity and government affairs divisions, announced their support for affirmative action this spring and followed up with informational brochures.


These efforts are the more remarkable in light of the fact that CCRI would ban race and gender preferences only in public employment, education, and contracting. But diversity-mongers in the private sector know that a CCRI victory would undermine the fragile legitimacy of all preferential treatment.


The corporate affirmative action lobby scored its greatest success to date at Pacific Gas & Electric, a utility based in San Francisco, closely allied with Mayor Willie Brown. PG&E's CEO, Stanley Skinner, publicly opposed CCRI in August; behind that announcement, says Claude Poncelet, a government affairs official at PG&E, lay the efforts of various ethnic employee groups that are "taking an active role" in the CCRI debate. The company timed Skinner's announcement to coincide with "Diversity Month," described by Poncelet as a "major happening" that "celebrates the diversity of PG&E employees."


A shareholder and customer backlash against PG&E and a lobbying campaign by Gov. Pete Wilson seem to have quashed, for the moment at least, what was a growing movement among other California companies to denounce CCRI publicly. But many corporations continue to work against CCRI behind the scenes. Emissaries from large northern California companies, such as Hewlett-Packard, Bank of America, and ARCO, are speaking to newspaper editorial boards and writing op-eds about the value of diversity, according to Mary Anderson, executive director of the Business Roundtable. The Roundtable itself, an influential group of 75 large California companies, issued a proclamation in support of affirmative action and diversity last August and hired a Sacramento public relations firm to poll and conduct focus groups on CCRI.


Corporate diversity officers belong to organizations such as the Northern California Diversity Roundtable, the Silicon Valley Diversity Forum, and the Aerospace Diversity Forum, and all of them are caucusing on CCRI. The West Coast division of the American Association for Affirmative Action, a national group of public and private "affirmative action professionals," met at Apple Computers this September for a "'Professionals Respond to CCRI' Training Meeting.'" The invitation made a barely concealed appeal to self-interest: " If CCRI to [sic] passes in November much of the work that we have done and that we currently do will be jeopardy [sic]" -- in other words, watch out for your jobs! Barry Shapiro, who heads the West Coast division of the "Four A's," as it is called, perfectly articulated the elitist assumption of the anti-CCRI effort. The training meeting, he said, would "allow diversity protessonals to talk back because we know more than you do." Those who attended the meeting decided to leverage their "knowledge" by hosting anti- CCRI parties, joining the speakers bureau run by the National Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights, and registering voters. The national Four A's has contributed $ 6,000 to the anti-CCRI campaign.


Another national affirmative action organization, the Industrial Liaison Group, is boycotting California. Under pressure from minority advocates, the group moved its annual conference from Los Angeles to Arizona and, in case anyone missed the move's significance, portentously renamed the meeting "From Hollywood to Phoenix." Many attendees sported "No on CCRI" buttons, provided by on-site anti-CCRI campaigners. Some particularly political conference planners regretted the move, however. "We should've kept it in California and rubbed Pete Wilson's nose in it," fumes Rita Reining of Pacific Bell. " Arizona's no great shakes either," she says, referring to its long opposition to Martin Luther King Day.