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The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Ellison, Lewis Announce Legislation to Protect Workers' Right to Organize

July 31, 2014 - Posted by Patrick McNeil

Reps. Keith Ellison, D. Minn., and John Lewis, D. Ga., at a July 30 press conference announced legislation to bolster protections for workers who face discrimination as a result of efforts to form or join a labor union.

Ellison wants to make union organizing a civil right – a notion repeated by Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, at Wednesday’s press conference. “The right to organize is an essential civil right and one that’s vital for the growth of a healthy middle-class,” Henderson said. “Yet that right has never been under greater attack than it is today.”

The Employee Empowerment Act would amend the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to include these protections for labor empowerment activities and allow workers who face discrimination to pursue litigation in civil court and receive compensatory and punitive damages.

Not only does discrimination in the workplace persist, but it is on the rise since the 1960s – and it is especially hurtful to women and minorities. A typical union worker earns 30 percent more than a non-union worker. Unionized African-American workers make 36 percent more, unionized Hispanic women make 46 percent more, and unionized Hispanic men make 49 percent more than their non-unionized counterparts.

Remedies for violating the NLRA are weak, and unlike Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and other labor and employment laws, no penalties for violations exist. The Employee Empowerment Act would give workers additional protections and avenues for recourse, just like they currently have on the basis of race or gender.

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