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Oklahoma votes to end program to hire women, minorities in state

By Steve Olafson

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - Voters in Oklahoma approved an amendment to the state's constitution on Tuesday to end affirmative action programs in state government that had been designed to increase the hiring of minorities and women in the state's 115 agencies.

The amendment was approved by 59 percent of the voters.

Affirmative action, on the books in Oklahoma since 1984, required each state agency to file an annual plan to increase the hiring of women and ethnic minorities.

The constitutional amendment still prohibits special treatment or discrimination based on race or gender in public employment, education or contracts.

Supporters of the amendment said affirmative action was no longer necessary.

The Oklahoma population was 69 percent white, 9 percent Hispanic, 8 percent Native American and 7 percent African American, according to 2010 U.S. Census figures.

The state's workforce of 33,405 was comprised of 22.6 percent ethnic minorities - 10.4 percent black, 7.6 percent Native American, 2.7 percent Hispanic and 2 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, according to state data from the 2010 budget year, the most recent statistics available.

Women make up 56.9 percent of the state workforce, state reports show.

State Representative Jabar Shumate, an African American Democrat from Tulsa, said Wednesday that ending the affirmative action program made the state "look bad" to the rest of the country, particular to companies that might consider relocating or expanding to Oklahoma.

Shumate said he is hopeful the state will remain committed to employing a diverse workforce even without a formal policy of affirmative action.

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Philip Barbara)

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