ATLANTA -- The president of Westinghouse Savannah River Co. met with the Augusta legislative delegation Tuesday just to say hello but ended up debating affirmative action with Rep. Ben Allen.
Mr. Allen, D-Augusta, urged Westinghouse President Joe Buggy to increase the diversity of the top management at the company's Aiken site, but Mr. Buggy complained that he has received no credit for increasing diversity to 30 percent.
"I wish it was better than that," Mr. Buggy said.
Mr. Buggy said his main legislative concern in Atlanta is a bill governing the transporting of nuclear material on Georgia roads. He said the bill, sponsored by Rep. June Hegstrom, D-Scottdale, could hamper activities by Savannah River Site.
Mr. Allen, however, raised the issue of minority hiring, saying the only progress has come after a lawsuit was filed.
Mr. Buggy denied the suit had anything to do with the timing. Instead, the promotion of a black person into senior management was triggered by the retirement of the general counsel, he said.
"I can't lay people off or create positions just for the sake of diversity," he said.
Mr. Allen said Mr. Buggy could demonstrate more commitment toward diversity by quickly resolving a class-action lawsuit in which SRS employees allege racial discrimination on the part of the company.
"It is my hope that you will resolve it and not prolong it and prolong it," Mr. Allen said.
Mr. Buggy said he wouldn't comment on the merits of the individual claims of the original plaintiffs, but he stated flatly that there was no systematic discrimination.
Regarding the transporting of nuclear material, Mr. Buggy said the irony is that most of the spent nuclear fuel to be shipped to SRS for processing had been safely shipped over Georgia roads when the site prepared it for use in weapons. Those original shipments, though, were secret for military reasons.
"That's just it," said Rep. Robin Williams, R-Augusta. "Nobody knew about it 50 years ago."
The first shipment of plutonium is scheduled to arrive in April. Mr. Buggy said Westinghouse will do everything it can to convince the public that SRS can safely handle the dangerous material.
Reach Walter C. Jones at (404) 589-8424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.