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Middle South

Responsibility

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

THE EQUAL EMPLOYMENT Opportunity Commission's 1972 figures on the employees of three subsidiaries of Middle South Utilities are certainly disappointing. In a region where black population is about 27 per cent. Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi Power and Light Companies have a 5.6 per cent black work force. Since 1970, black employment in the three utilities has increased only 1.3 per cent. Harvard is the largest single stockholder in Middle South.

These figures are especially weak in light of the kinds of jobs blacks have. The EEOC lists nine job categories; Middle South has eight blacks in the top four categories, and 318 in the bottom five. While over 90 per cent of the utilities' janitors are black, all their managers are white.

It's hard to tell whether Middle South is really trying to increase its percentage of black employees. Instead of trying to explain the EEOC figures, Middle South has sent its subsidiaries a meaningless three-sentence statement--"minority employment is expanding," It said--and instructed the three utilities to clam up on the issue. This kind of superficial response makes Middle South look bad. If they really were trying to recruit blacks, wouldn't they jump at the chance to tell reporters about it?

Perhaps it is unfair to draw too many conclusions from Middle South's silence, especially since Middle South's figures aren't particularly bad compared to the rest of the utility industry, which is notorious for its low black employee percentages. However, there is one place where Middle South has been forced to talk publicity about its hiring of blacks: in federal district court in Little Rock, Ark.

HENRY BAKER, a black laborer in an Arkansas Power and Light plant, is now in the middle of a lawsuit against AP&L, charging that the utility discriminates against blacks in its hiring and promotion policy. Baker has worked in AP&L's Cecil Lynch plant for 25 years without a promotion. He is trying to get back pay for all the years he worked in AP&L's lowest job category while white people with less experience got moved up to higher-paying jobs.

Forced to defend themselves, AP&L officials have under cross-examination come out with some astonishing statistics. In the Cecil Lynch Plant, no blacks were hired between 1959 and 1970. In 1970, when Baker first filed his suit, blacks at the Lynch plant worked only as laborers or janitors, the plant's lowest job categories; and the average salary of AP&L employees was $8000 for whites and $4000 for blacks.

All of this evidence is fairly conclusive proof that AP&L--and probably Middle South in general--was discriminatory in 1970. However, AP&L's line of defense has been that it has changed all that in the last three years. AP&L's employment manager testified that 30 per cent of the utility's new employees since 1970 have been black and have filled positions "pretty much up and down the line" in job classifications.

The 1972 EEOC figures make these claims seem a little exaggerated. For instance. AP&L says it hired 80 blacks in 1971, but the total increase in black employees for AP&L and two other Middle South subsidiaries from 1970 to 1972 was 81. If AP&L's claims are true, then, Louisiana and Mississippi Power and Light Companies must have fewer blacks now than they did in 1970.

Information presented in the lawsuit also sheds light on why Middle South has no blacks in managerial positions. AP&L has a "summer cadet" program in which it hires engineering students during summers--an ideal way to recruit and train future high-level employees. All of the summer cadets hired so far have been white, while unskilled jobs as summer laborers have gone to both blacks and whites. Middle South obviously can't just wait for black executives to come to them, and they obviously aren't doing much recruiting at black colleges, where there would no doubt be plenty of people interested in high-paying jobs with major utilities.

MIDDLE SOUTH used to include in its annual reports a chart showing the geographical distribution of its stockholders. In 1966, the last year the chart was printed, about 60 per cent of Middle South's stock was owned in New York and Massachusetts, while less than 4 per cent was owned in the states Middle South serves. Middle South is a company owned in the North but operated--in a way that does nothing to further racial equality--in the South. As absentee landlords, Middle South's Northern stockholders bear as much of the blame for the company's employment policies as do its Southern managers.

Harvard should not ignore the policies of companies it makes money from, and Middle South Utilities is a company whose hiring policy seems far from enlightened. The University could probably wield a great deal of influence with Middle South because of both its large stock holdings and its considerable influence in the Northeast; it will continue to share the responsibility for Middle South's hiring policies until it starts trying to change them. --Nick Lemann

The Collegium Musicum will perform the Mozart Requiem in a memorial concert for Ethel Cardwell Higonnet, at 8 p.m. on Sunday, December 16, in Memorial Church.

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