Revive Affirmative Action in Washington

by Tran Dinh, GSBA Extern
| Mar 13, 2018

“The state shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”

Despite Seattle’s progressive reputation, the city, as bound by Initiative 200 (I-200), is prohibited from having preferences based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public contracting, hiring, and education. Washington voters approved I-200 into law in November 1998. I-200 applies to all government entities and programs in Washington State, including public higher education institutions and Washington State’s Supplemental Certification Program (Plus 3).  With an anti-discrimination disguise, I-200 operates in a colorblind and ahistorical society where everyone is treated equally, regardless of the continuing pattern of violent and disparate treatment of underrepresented communities.

 

In reality, I-200 significantly impacts Washington State’s ability to hire, contract, and educate underrepresented communities through race- and gender-based policies. For instance, in education, I-200 is not only a barrier that limits access to higher education for underrepresented students but also impedes schools’ ability to attain diverse faculty and staff. More specifically, the initiative impairs school districts’ ability to hire and retain diverse teachers and administrators in the pre-K through 12 system to meet the needs of the increasingly diverse population.

 

Similar to public education’s hiring impairment, state agencies now lack the proper tools and incentives to meet their affirmative action goals. Originally, the Supplemental Certification or Plus 3 program implements race- and gender-based policies in state hiring. After the passing of I-200, the Plus 3 program has adapted to meet the parameters set by the law. In practice, the agency’s director of personnel is authorized to select the best seven candidates from employment registers or eligibility lists. The top seven candidates are “certified” to be considered for the open position. The Plus 3 program then allows three more candidates who belong to underrepresented groups to be added to the list for the hiring agency’s consideration. After the state’s affirmative action ban, Washington State’s population had a 4.1% increase in unemployment for African Americans as relative to whites.

 

The adverse impact of I-200 is also deeply and widely felt in employment as well as the contracting sector. Between 1994 and 1996, African Americans represented 4.76% of available firms, but received only 0.33% of “construction prime contract dollars” and 3.16% of subcontractor dollars. I-200’s impact on women-owned businesses is similarly negative. The number of certified women-owned firms has declined to nearly half of what it was before I-200 was approved. Further, in the five years before I-200 came in effect, state agencies and higher education institutions spent 10% of their contracted and procurement dollars with certified women-owned firms. Today, that rate is 3%.

 

GSBA works to cultivate a vibrant global economy strengthened through the full participation of diverse local communities. To attain this vision, GSBA has selected affirmative action as one of our legislative priorities. While there have been numerous attempts over the years to repeal or amend I-200, none have made it to the Governor’s table. This year, there were two bills in the House and Senate aimed at restoring affirmative action in Washington State. The 2018 legislative session having ended on March 8th, neither of the efforts to repeal I-200 passed this year. However, GSBA is committed to working with the community and organizational partners to restore equitable treatment of underrepresented groups in hiring, contracting, and education in Washington.


Tran is a law student at Seattle University and is completing an externship with GSBA, focused especially on issues around I-200, minority business contracting, and economic justice.