BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Jesse Jackson has vowed to scrutinize hiring practices and vendor policies of automakers expanding into the Deep South.
In an address to the Automotive News Manufacturing Conference here last week, the civil rights activist chided automotive companies for failing to use more minority employees and suppliers. Jackson said that if it had not been for the civil rights struggle in the South in the 1960s, there would be no New South of progressive states now luring foreign auto industry investments.
But he charged that minorities still are being locked out of the economic boom in the New South. He also said some business leaders are "wearing cultural blinders."
Jackson announced his plan to visit "every single auto plant in the South this summer" to look into their policies.
Industry executives at the conference said they supported Jackson. But they also expressed concern that Jackson might not be aware of their diversity efforts.
Major new auto plants for Honda Motor Co., Mercedes-Benz, Nissan Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Hyundai Motor Co. already have set goals on work force and supply diversity.
"I'm not sure if he was including Hyundai in his comments," says Byung Mo Ahn, executive vice president of Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama LLC, a $1 billion project being built in Montgomery. "We're only beginning our company. We can't say yet how many minorities will end up working with us."
But Ahn says Hyundai intends to reflect the social makeup of its south Alabama community. He says Hyundai has a diversity manager, Sheron Rose, attempting to ensure the company makes the right moves. The company is meeting regularly with Alabama's legislative black caucus in Montgomery to seek its advice, Ahn says.