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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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'Free Rider' Provision in Senate Health Care Bill Gives Employers Incentive to Discriminate

August 5, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis

Civil rights groups are opposing a provision in the Senate Finance Committee's health care reform bill that will give employers an incentive to discriminate against minorities, low-income people, and people with disabilities.

The "free rider" provision requires employers of firms with 50 or more employees who do not offer health coverage to pay the average subsidy cost per person for all employees who are eligible for a subsidy and who purchase coverage in the new health care plan.  Employees whose family income is below about $67,000 for a family of four qualify for a subsidy. But employers would not have to pay for employees with higher family incomes.

The provision creates a powerful incentive for employers to fire – or not to hire – the very people that health care reform is supposed to help.  For instance:

  • Employers will have an incentive to hire a woman whose spouse has health insurance coverage for her family, instead of hiring an uninsured single mother of two who qualifies for the new government insurance subsidy.
  • Employers will have an incentive to lay off employees who receive the subsidy, because it will save the business even more on labor costs.
  • Employers will have an incentive to avoid recruiting at community colleges, historically black colleges and universities, and minority-serving institutions to reduce applications from people likely to need health subsidies.
  • Employers will have an incentive not to hire people with disabilities who don't have the option of going without coverage because of their conditions.

"We all agree that Congress has a very important and complex task in passing legislation to give every American access to quality, affordable health care. In doing so, however, Congress has a special obligation to make sure that the legislation does not harm the most vulnerable in our society who need the benefits of health care reform the most," said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.  "We urge the Senate Finance Committee to change this provision."

More information about the provision.

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Minimum Wage Increase Will Help Millions of Low-Income Workers

July 20, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

This Friday, the federal minimum wage will increase from $6.55 an hour to $7.25 an hour.  The change is the last of three increases over the past two years as mandated by the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007.

The increase comes at a time a time when many Americans need it the most.  More than 2.8 million workers will receive a pay increase due to the new minimum wage. 

But even with the increase, many of these workers who struggle to support families with their incomes will still fall below the poverty line. An individual earning $7.25 an hour in a 2,000-hour work year would earn an annual income of $14,500, a number still below the 2009 federal poverty level of $18,310 for a family of three.

The raise in the minimum wage is expected to increase consumer spending, which would be an important stimulus to the economy.  According to Kai Filion, policy analyst for the Economic Policy Institute, the upcoming increase will generate $5.5 billion in consumer spending over the next 12 months.

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E-Verify Will Make It Tougher for Americans to Get Jobs

July 13, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently announced its support for a regulation that could make it even harder for Americans, already struggling in a tough job market, to get jobs.

Under the regulation, employers seeking federal contracts will be required to use the Employment Eligibility Verification System (E-Verify) to verify its employees are allowed to work in the U.S.  Newly-hired workers would have their identification checked against government databases.  An employee whose information does not match the database goes on a "No Work List."  Employers seeking federal contracts will be barred from hiring from the "No Work List."

E-Verify is designed to stop employers from hiring undocumented immigrants, but is likely to affect work eligibility of millions of law-abiding American workers as well because the government databases are filled with errors.  The Social Security Administration itself reports that nearly 13 million of its files on U.S. citizens contain incorrect data. 

"In the middle of the toughest job market in decades, the Obama administration and the Senate have chosen to erect another roadblock to gainful employment for U.S. workers.  The administration's decision to expand E-Verify without correcting the defects in the database system will lead to unnecessary harm to U.S. workers," said Joanne Lin, legislative counsel for the ACLU.

Soon after the DHS announcement, the Senate approved an amendment to the fiscal year 2010 Homeland Security appropriations bill that would make E-Verify permanent for all federal contractors.

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Supreme Court Decision in Ricci Makes It Hard For Employers to Comply with Anti-Discrimination Laws

June 29, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court imposed a new standard on employers seeking to comply with federal employment discrimination laws in its 5-4 decision in Ricci v. DeStefano, a race discrimination lawsuit against the city of New Haven, Connecticut.

Ricci involved the claim by one Latino and nine White firefighters that the city's decision not to certify the results of a firefighter promotion test discriminated against them.  After the test was administered, the city had found that it had a discriminatory effect. The city concluded the test was biased and, after extensive consideration and five public hearings, chose to abandon the discriminatory exam, in order to avoid facing a discrimination lawsuit.  Two lower courts agreed that the city made the correct decision.

However, the Supreme Court ruled, in an opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy,  that the city violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of race, religion, gender, and national origin, by not certifying the test.  In doing so, the Court created a new standard that gives employers very little room to rectify situations where a policy is found to have a discriminatory effect after the policy has been applied.

Read more >>

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FedEx Blocking Bill That Would Improve Its Workers' Labor Rights

June 11, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

FedEx is attempting to block a bill in Congress that will reclassify some of its workers under jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) rather than the Railway Labor Act (RLA).  Most private company employees are currently protected under the NLRA.

The reclassification will give FedEx Express drivers an easier path to form a union by allowing them to organize at local work sites. Employees classified under the RLA, which covers railroad and airline operations, can only form a union by holding a national election.

FedEx airline workers will continue to be covered by the RLA.

FedEx and its subsidiaries have a history of lowering wages, increasing premiums on health care, withdrawing retirement benefits, and fighting employees' allegations of discrimination

 In 2007, LCCR and American Rights At Work released a report documenting FedEx Ground's misclassification of many of its drivers as "independent contractors," which exempts the employees from standard labor protections. A number of cases are currently pending in federal and state courts regarding FedEx Ground's classification of workers.

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New Study Finds Customer Satisfaction Surveys Can Be Discriminatory

June 11, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

A new study from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee found race and gender bias often distorts assessments of job performance by women and people of color compared to White males. Since employers often use performance-based evaluations and surveys to decide which workers to promote or how much to pay their employees, the study's findings indicate that these tools may actually perpetuate discrimination and provide businesses with flawed assessments.  

Researchers compared objective job performance criteria for over a hundred doctors with patient satisfaction reports, using data such as perceived level of accessibility and the number of questions asked at a check up. 

The study found that favorable patient reports correlated with favorable objective performance reviews only for White men. Doctors who were women or persons of color actually received worse patient evaluations when they were more attentive to patient needs.

"It does not make sense -- working harder seems to be counterproductive for women and minorities," said David R. Hekman, assistant business professor at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and the lead author of the study.

The same researchers also created an experiment where volunteers, who were asked to imagine themselves as customers, viewed two videotapes of customer and sales clerk interactions at a bookshop. One tape featured a White male sales clerk and the other either a Black male or White female clerk. Even though the clerks were actors following identical scripts, viewers rated customer service from the White male clerk 19 percent higher than the service from either the White female clerk or the Black male clerk.

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Department of Labor Suspends Harmful Bush Regulations to Agricultural Guestworker Program

June 5, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis

The Department of Labor recently announced that it is suspending harmful Bush administration regulations to the H-2A guestworker program for nine months beginning June 29.

The H-2A program allows agricultural employers to hire foreign workers on temporary work permits to fill agricultural jobs that last 10 months or less. Prior to the Bush regulations, employers had to prove that they tried to hire U.S. workers but were unable to find qualified employees.

The department's decision comes after organizations representing farmworkers filed a lawsuit arguing that Bush's changes to the program, which went into effect on January 17, lowered immigrants' wages and violated federal laws protecting workers' rights.  LCCR and other civil rights organizations also urged the department to overturn the Bush regulations.

The department has temporarily reinstated the previous regulations while it develops new ones for the guestworker program.  Many labor, immigrant and civil rights organizations are pushing for Congress to pass the Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits and Security Act (AGJobs), which would strengthen the guestworker program by providing more worker protections to foreign-born and domestic workers.

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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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