The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Workers' Rights

Across America, working families are dedicated to the economic advancement to promote fairness in the workplace and establish policies that help men and women meet the dual demands of work and family. Yet all too often, workers who attempt to join unions, assert other rights in the workplace, or file complaints with protection or civil rights agencies face employer threats, retaliation and discrimination.

Other issues affecting the well-being of working Americans include tax cuts, bankruptcy reform, and the minimum wage.

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New Report Finds Increase in Union-Busting Tactics

May 22, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

An increasing number of private sector employers are adopting union-busting tactics that include coercion, intimidation, and retaliation to discourage workers from forming union, according to a new report by American Rights at Work and the Economic Policy Institute that analyses data of employer behavior during union elections from 1999 to 2003.

During this period, employers threatened to fire workers 57 percent of the time, compared to 29 percent during the mid-1980s, and actually fired employees 29 percent of the time, up from 18 percent in the mid-1980s. Employers also threatened to cut wages and benefits 47 percent of the time to delay elections. 

In addition, 60 percent of employers compelled their workers to attend one-on-one sessions with supervisors, where workers are often harassed because of their involvement in union campaigns.

Immigrant workers are particularly vulnerable to union busting. In about half of all the cases studied where a majority of the workers were undocumented immigrants, employers threatened to notify Immigration Customs and Enforcement of their status.  Employers used this threat in 41 percent of cases with recent legal immigrants as well.

To help strengthen the right to organize, the report says, Congress should pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which requires employers to recognize a union once a majority of workers sign a card authorizing its creation and imposes stiff penalties and fines for employers that repeatedly violate the law.  The Employee Free Choice Act is currently pending in Congress.

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Women's Rights Groups Respond to Supreme Court Decision on Pregnancy Discrimination

May 19, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court voted (7-2) to reject a pregnancy discrimination claim in AT&T; v. Hulteen. In the case, four female AT&T; workers and retirees said that the system used by AT&T; to calculate pension benefits should give women who took pregnancy leave before the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed in 1978 the same credit for time not at work as employees with other types of disabilities received.

Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, called the Court's decision "disgraceful, unfair, and a terrible blow to the equal opportunity laws women and people of color have long relied on."

"This ruling ... undermines Congress’s intent in passing the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to ensure that women would never again be adversely affected by their pregnancies, and denies Ms. Hulteen and her colleagues the equal compensation to which they are entitled," said Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center.

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Award-Winning Performers Support Employee Free Choice Act in New Video

May 19, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis

In this video by Artists for Workers Choice, 47 performers who work in film, television, and theater explain why unions are important and why the Employee Free Choice Act will be good for American workers.  The video was developed by some of the major unions for American artists, and features stars like Jerry Stiller, Amy Brenneman, and James Cromwell. 

All 47 performers are members of a union.

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New Coalition Urges Congress to Improve Conditions for Low-Income Workers

May 14, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Rep. John Conyers speaking at a May 12th hearing

Rep. John Conyers, D. Mich., speaking on a panel with representatives from the Inter-Alliance Dialogue at an ad-hoc hearing sponsored by the Congressional Progressive Caucus on May 12, 2009.

Organizations that advocate for working-class Americans, such as the Institute for Policy Studies and Jobs with Justice, recently formed a coalition called the Inter-Alliance Dialogue to address the needs of low-income workers, minorities, domestic workers, day laborers, and other groups most affected by the recession. 

In recent months, employers have been eliminating jobs at a rate of about half a million per month, causing many people to lose their homes and healthcare, especially low-income workers and minorities.

The groups that make up the Inter-Alliance Dialogue are urging Congress to address the needs of low-wage workers, by:

  • passing the Employee Free Choice Act to expand workers' right to organize and improve working conditions;
  • enhancing worker protection laws to prevent wage theft and workplace abuses;
  • preventing the lending and credit industries from taking advantage of minorities and low-income people;
  • implementing fair immigration reform that protects workers and their families; and
  • providing equal opportunities for jobs for all workers in the emerging green economy.

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Paycheck Fairness Act Will Help End Pay Discrimination

May 6, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

On average, women make 78 cents for every dollar men make.  Even though the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which will make it easier for employees to challenge pay discrimination in court, is now law, it alone is not enough to deter employers from paying women lower salaries than men for equal work.

The Paycheck Fairness Act will amend and strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), which was designed to abolish pay disparities based on gender, by closing loopholes that made it hard for employees to prove pay discrimination and forbidding employers from retaliating against employees that share salary information.  It passed the House in January at the same time as the Ledbetter bill, but is still pending in the Senate.

The Act will also make it possible for employees that have been discriminated against on the basis of gender will be able to seek unlimited compensatory and punitive damages.  Currently, only employees that are discriminated against for race or national origin are able to do so. The EPA only provides for back pay awards and liquidated damages, which is a sum to be paid in the event a contract is broken that is agreed upon by both parties before the contract is signed.

Deborah Vagins, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said that this will help women of color who often can not isolate whether their discrimination is the result of race or gender. African-American women earn 67 cents for every dollar that White men do, and Hispanic women earn approximately 58 cents for every dollar that White men do.

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Survey Shows Public Support for the Fair Arbitration Act

April 29, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

A new survey shows that nearly 60 percent of likely voters oppose mandatory arbitration clauses in employment and consumer contracts.

Mandatory arbitration clauses require a consumer or employee to agree to settle any disputes in arbitration, which is when a private third party reviews and settles the dispute. In doing so, individuals waive his or her right to sue, to participate in a class action lawsuit, or to appeal.  These clauses are often hidden in the fine print of contracts, such as cell phone and employment contracts.

The Fair Arbitration Now Coalition says that mandatory arbitration denies Americans their Seventh Amendment right to trial in civil disputes. According to the survey, many Americans are unaware that their right to a trial is taken from them when they sign contracts with mandatory arbitration clauses.

The surveyalso found that 59 percent of likely voters support the Arbitration Fairness Act. The Act specifies that mandatory arbitration clauses cannot be applied to employment, consumer, or franchise disputes. It also prohibits mandatory arbitration in disputes arising under any statute intended to protect civil rights.

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Civil Rights Community Rallies around Employee Free Choice Act

April 17, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

A woman in a nurse's uniform, with caption: It's time for Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is gaining support across the country as well as on Capitol Hill, with more than 150 grassroots organizations joining President Obama, Vice President Biden, and congressional leaders in support of the bill.

EFCA will give workers the option to choose how to form a union, either by ballot or by getting a majority of employees to sign a union-authorization card.

But the Employee Free Choice Act has engaged more than just the labor community. The right to organize affects all Americans, especially in these difficult economic times. A recent poll shows that 73 percent of Americans favor passing legislation that makes it easier for workers to organize.

As part our "Calling for Justice" series, LCCREF held a national conference call last week to discuss the potential impact of EFCA and to rally national, state, and local leaders around the bill. 

"The passage of the Employee Free Choice Act is critically important to all of us; it's critically important to the economy of our country; it's critically important to rebuilding the strength of the middle class," said Wade Henderson, president & CEO of LCCR.

A coalition of civil and human rights organizations, religious organizations, and local activists have come together in support of the bill, including American Rights at Work, whose new ad campaign, Faces of the Employee Free Choice Act, tells the stories of workers who are fighting for their right to organize.

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Employee Free Choice Act Is Good for Black Workers

April 3, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

The Employee Free Choice Act, which is currently under consideration by Congress, is a bill that would make it easier for all workers to join unions by giving them the option to choose how to form a union, either by ballot or by getting a majority of employees to sign a union-authorization card.

If passed, the bill would be particularly good for African Americans, who join unions because union jobs provide better wages and health care benefits than non-union jobs.  Black workers who are in unions earn 28 percent more than non-unionized Black workers and are approximately 16 percent more likely to have health insurance benefits than non-unionized Black workers.

In addition, unions have historically played a critical role in the upward mobility of African Americans and they still help to provide African Americans with better wages and healthcare benefits than they would get with non-union jobs.

The Employee Free Choice Act is supported by LCCR and other civil rights organizations, who point to a long history of collaboration between the labor movement and the civil rights movement. Today is the anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was killed while in Memphis, Tenn., to organize sanitation workers in 1968.

'Dr. King was assassinated helping to lead a struggle of sanitation workers to win the freedom to form a union and bargain collectively with their employer. The struggle of those workers continues today as Congress works to pass the Employee Free Choice Act to improve the lives of working men and women regardless of race, color or creed,' said Benjamin Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP.

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Today in Civil Rights History: Labor Leader César Chávez' Birth Anniversary

March 31, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

César Chávez and Duncan West of the Teamsters speaking at a Delano grape strike rally.

César Chávez and Duncan West of the Teamsters speaking at a Delano grape strike rally.

Photo Credit: Joel Levine

Today is the birthday anniversary of labor leader and civil rights activist César Chávez (1927-1993).

Chávez worked tirelessly throughout his career to get higher wages and better working conditions for underpaid farm workers.  Chavez started out as a community organizer at the Community Service Organization (CSO), a Latino civil rights organization, and eventually became the organization's national director. In 1962, he left the CSO to co-found the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) with Dolores Huerta, so he could organize farm workers full time.

Chávez' first big success with the NFWA came in 1965.  That year, NFWA joined the Delano Grape Strike, a strike of California grape pickers initiated by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, and turned the strike into a major campaign that attracted national attention.

During the strike, the two unions merged to form the United Farm Workers (UFW).  The strike lasted five years and, in the end, more than 10,000 grape pickers were able to sign UFW union contracts that got them higher wages.

Chávez continued to work for farm workers' rights until his death in 1993.

Chávez' birthday is a holiday in eight states and people celebrate him by promoting service to the community.  This year, in honor of Chávez, UFW is holding a series of marches and rallies around the country throughout March and April.

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Today in Civil Rights History: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

March 25, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

People at a demonstration holding signs that say

Demonstration of protest and mourning for victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of March 25, 1911.

On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City, an event that galvanized the city and sparked a movement that led to legislation that improved factory safety and workers' protections.

Nearly 150 workers died in the fire, unable to escape from the building due to locked exits and a broken fire escape. It was the most tragic industrial disaster in the history of New York City, and was the worst workplace disaster in the city until the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Company manufactured women's blouses, which were called "shirtwaists" or simply "waists" at the time. Most of the company's 600 workers were female immigrants from Eastern Europe, Italy and Germany, some as young as 12, who were paid a mere six or seven dollars a week.

The origins of the fire are unknown, but the fire sparked efforts to improve safety laws and workers' compensation laws.

The International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU), which grew in size and political power in the wake of the fire, organized a large rally and the Women’s Trade Union League campaigned to investigate working conditions for laborers and collected testimonies.

The governor of New York set up a Factory Investigating Commission, which conducted hearings across the state for five years. As a result, vital factory safety legislation was passed and new workers' compensation laws were pased.

The building that housed the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, now called the Brown Building, is a national historic landmark. The UNITE HERE union, which includes ILGWU, honors workers' contributions to American soceity every year on the fire's anniversary.

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