Shareholders Reject Anti-Affirmative Action Proposal
Apr. 20, 1988
DENVER (AP) _ A white supremacist group's resolution calling on AT&T to phase out its affirmative action program won 8.6 percent of the shares voted, the company announced Wednesday at its annual meeting.
An opposing resolution calling for the company to increase affirmative action efforts in hiring and promotion won 6 percent of the vote.
The resolutions required a majority vote to be implemented.
The voting was seen by some a referendum on affirmative action because American Telephone & Telegraph Co. is the most widely held stock in the United States, with 2.7 million shareholders.
Since both resolutions received more than 3 percent support, their sponsors are entitled to try putting them on the ballot again next year, but AT&T's management said they would fight holding another vote on the white supremacist group's proposal.
Management had strongly opposed the anti-affirmative action proposal put forward by the National Alliance, which contended that minorities are intellectually inferior and affirmative action demoralizes whites.
Tension was high in Denver's cavernous Currigan Exhibition Hall as Herbert Poinsett of Norcross, Ga., argued in favor of the proposal by the Arlington, Va.-based National Alliance.
More than a dozen shareholders spoke against the National Alliance's proposal, including a Denver man, Harry Methner, who said he fought Nazi youth in gang wars on the streets of Berlin in 1935 when Nazis used similar arguments of genetic inferiority against Jews.
No one spoke in favor except Poinsett, who is the host of a white supremacist show, ''Race and Reason,'' on an Atlanta public access television channel.
The resolution calling for AT&T to increase affirmative action efforts was proposed by Alex Tillman, a black manager at the company's Bell Laboratories.
Tillman, choked with emotion, said he feared the wide circulation given to the National Alliance's ideas would poison the atmosphere at AT&T. ''These kind of comments hang in the air a long time,'' he said.
Hal Burlingame, AT&T's senior vice president for human resources, also expressed concern that the votes for the National Alliance proposal could damage morale in what he described as the AT&T ''family of employees.''
''Naturally I'm disappointed to see a vote that gives support of any kind for that issue and what it represents,'' he said after votes were counted.
Robert E. Allen, AT&T's new chairman and chief executive, said the company would try to keep the National Alliance proposal off next year's ballot. He said the company tried three times to have the Securities and Exchange Commission keep it off the ballot this year, but failed.
''We find the intent and the wording of this proposal highly objectionable,'' Allen said.
The Communication Workers of America, AT&T's biggest union, held a ''rally against racism'' outside the meeting.
In a statement from Washington, union President Morton Bahr said, ''We are very pleased that the neo-Nazi-sponsored resolution number five was so resoundingly defeated.''
Tillman's resolution, arguing that the company should do even more than it is, said the shortage of minorities and women in high ranks could hurt AT&T in its dealings with cities with female or minority mayors and in dealings with foreign cultures.