Commissioner opposes EEOC reorganization

In the wake of union protests against a reorganization proposal from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, one commissioner announced his opposition to the plan Monday.

Stuart Ishimaru, who was appointed by President Bush in 2003, said the proposal, if approved, "will lead the agency down a path to irrelevancy." The commissioner said it will decrease EEOC's presence in local communities and that it "fails to address the lack of substantial race discrimination cases being brought by the agency."

Shortly after his prepared comments were distributed to reporters, the commission canceled a scheduled meeting 20 minutes after it was supposed to start. The panel was to vote on the plan at the meeting.

Leonora L. Guarraia, EEOC's chief operating officer, said the meeting was canceled in order to give employees and others more time to comment on the proposal, and that it had nothing to do with Ishimaru's remarks, which she said she had not yet seen. When asked why the meeting was canceled at such late notice, she said the commission was receiving requests for postponement up until the last minute.

The American Federation of Government Employees local that represents EEOC employees complained last week that the scheduled public meeting did not allow members of the public to critique the proposal and that employees had not been invited to comment on it.

The reorganization proposal, announced last Tuesday, calls for the downsizing of eight district offices, including those in Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Milwaukee, New Orleans, San Antonio and Seattle. The commission emphasized, however, that no jobs would be lost.

In addition to the office downsizings, the EEOC announced it would create two new offices, in Las Vegas and Mobile, Ala. EEOC spokesman David Grinberg said more discrimination complaints have been coming from those cities in recent years as a result of population growth and demographic shifts.

Ishimaru said the proposal reduces the commission's ability to fight discrimination in the south because the Baltimore and New Orleans offices are among those being downsized and that the new Mobile office will lack its own attorney.

Guarraia said she couldn't disagree more with Ishimaru's statements. The proposal, she said, "allows us to expand our presence to areas like Las Vegas and Mobile," and that "a reduction in size does not mean a lack of presence in the state." She added, "We can take those savings and reinvest them in investigators and enforcement."

Guarraia also said the commission's management structure will be flattened, which means that certain employees who spend their time managing others will shift to focus on litigation and other duties related directly to investigating discrimination.

Gabrielle Martin, president of the AFGE local, said last week that the commission was understaffed and the proposal did not address the need to hire more employees. "We are so bareboned," she said.

Guarraia said EEOC chairwoman Cari M. Dominguez planned to add about 130 positions to the commission's current staff of 2,400.

Guarraia said she expected Monday's canceled meeting to be rescheduled before summer vacations begin.

Ishimaru was also the sole dissenting voice in opposition to the EEOC's privatized call center.

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