Affirmative action programs: The Philadelphia Plan and Backlash
Although affirmative action was understood to mean including ethnic groups and women in occupations from which they were formerly excluded, many employers provided only token responses to the new orders and regulations, such as hiring just one African American or woman in a particular job. In 1968, to deal with this tokenism, the Labor Department’s Philadelphia office began to require contractors to demonstrate compliance quantitatively.
What became known as the Philadelphia plan involved comparing employees and applicants foremployment with statistical norms. For example, if Labor Department statistics showed that 30 percent of all forklift operators working in the Philadelphia area were African American, each contractor was required to ensure that close to 30 percent of its forklift operators were African American. Similarly, employers had to demonstrate that rates of promotion, salaries, and other aspects of employment treated both sexes and all ethnic and racial groups equally. If they could not do so, they were required to state specific reasons why disparities existed and correct the deficiencies.
The Philadelphia plan insisted that, where disparities were found, employers must draw up timetables for removing those disparities. It became a nationwide standard on February 5, 1970, when the Labor Department issued new guidelines for affirmative action known as Revised Order 4. The order required employers to assess whether they perpetuated patterns of exclusion or underemployment of minorities or women. If so, changes were to bemade in any personnel policies, practices, or procedures that were deemed responsible for the anomalous patterns; goals and timetables for such changes were required. Failure to make an analysis or to correct deficiencies was deemed to constitute bad faith, placing a contract in jeopardy.
Although the Philadelphia plan was acceptable to civil rights groups, some whitemensaw the hiring of an increasing number of minorities and women as “reverse discrimination.” Employers also began to complain of the cost of collecting, organizing, and analyzing detailed statistics about their employees.
Affirmative action has not always been implemented in a manner consistent with federal guidelines, leading to court challenges on some occasions. Judges, in turn, have supported affirmative action only when remedies have been narrowly tailored to remedy specific deficiencies in reasonable periods of time. In 1995, President Bill Clinton announced four standards for “mending” affirmative action: Affirmative action should not establish quotas, give preference to unqualified applicants, involve reverse discrimination, or continue beyond the existence of a demonstrable need. That policy continued through the beginning of the twenty-first century.