After 22 years, Pablo Martinez expected job opportunities at Kirtland Air Force Base to get better for Hispanics.
But they’ve gotten worse, he says, and the New Mexico League of United Latin American Citizens wants the U.S. Department of Defense and the Air Force to answer why.
“We’re not asking for special, preferential treatment,” said Martinez, state director of New Mexico LULAC, an organization working for the rights and opportunities of Hispanics in the United States. “We have the position of making sure our city is represented by the demographics (at Kirtland).”
The group wants the base to hire more qualified Hispanics at all levels – especially higher-level management positions – to better reflect the state’s high Hispanic population.
But officials with the base say Martinez’s concerns are unfounded.
“The diversity of Kirtland’s workforce is a top priority for both the host wing and our many associate units,” Col. Robert Suminsby Jr., commander of the 377th Air Base Wing, said in a news release.
He noted that the base has switched to using private companies to perform some of its functions. That has pulled some workers off the government employment rolls, which means comparing employment data from different time periods “can be misleading,” he said.
The base’s hiring practices also affect an analysis of its work force demographics, Suminsby said.
“Many higher-grade positions are filled using a nationwide labor pool, so comparisons to local demographics are not a valid measure of hiring practices,” he said.
“Furthermore, all federal employees must be U.S. citizens, and most positions require at least a high school diploma in order to make a candidate competitive.”
LULAC and base officials met in 1984 to discuss Hispanic employment, and the group came away expecting improvement, Martinez said.
“I would never have thought that it would have gone from bad to worse,” he said in a news release. “Kirtland Air Force Base should be the nation’s leader, considering that the Latino population in New Mexico is the first and only Hispano majority state in the country.”
Martinez offered no specifics on the number of Hispanics holding jobs at the base. But he estimated that that some departments went from having a staff that was 10 percent Hispanic in 1984 down to 5 percent today. Hispanics aren’t employed at all in some departments, he said.
As evidence of a work environment unfriendly to Hispanics, Martinez pointed to an appeal filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In it, base employee Ralph Arellanes claimed a high-level employee made offensive remarks about undocumented Mexican immigrants at a group meeting.
The allegations originally were made in a complaint to the agency employing Arellanes, but the agency dismissed them, according to the appeal.
However, the appeal states the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sent the complaint back to the agency for further investigation.
LULAC’s national president, Rosa Rosales, who was in Albuquerque this week, said she supports Martinez’s efforts to bring Kirtland’s employee demographics to the attention of senior military officials.
“The best work force is a diversified work force,” she said.