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 Greater Diversity in U.S. Union Membership

November 10, 2009 - Posted by Ron Bigler

The popular image of a typical union member in the United States has been of a middle-age White man working in a factory. While that may have been true a quarter century ago, it is far from accurate today, as a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) finds.

Almost half of unionized workers (45 percent) in 2008 were women, up from 35 percent in 1983, according to "The Changing Face of Labor 1983 - 2008." The report, which analyzes demographic trends in the union workforce over the last 25 years, predicts that, based on current trends, women will be the majority of union members before 2020. 

The report also found that:  

  • Latinos (12 percent) are the fastest growing ethnic group in the labor movement, up from just 5.8 percent in 1983.
  • Asians (4.6 percent) have nearly doubled as a percentage of the union workforce since 1989 (2.5 percent). 
  • The share of Black workers in the unionized workforce has held fairly steady at 13 percent since 1983, while there has been a large decline in the representation of White workers in the same period.


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‘Labor Day’ Shows SEIU’s Impact on 2008 Election

October 26, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

The new documentary film "Labor Day" explores the role that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) played in the election of Barack Obama last year.

The film begins in early 2007 and follows the SEIU and its members' work through November 2008 to elect a Democrat to the White House. Director Glenn Silber, a two-time Oscar nominee, uses campaign footage, footage of SEIU members canvassing around the country, and interviews with politicians, musicians, and journalists to show how SEIU inspired thousands of activists to help turn "Election Day into Labor Day."

"Labor Day" will premiere on Wednesday, October 28, at the Barrymore Theater in Madison, Wisc. It will be screened in New York and Chicago on Friday, October 30. For more information, visit the film's website.

Categories: Workers' Rights

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Wade Henderson among NELP Honorees for Workers’ Rights Advocacy

October 22, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Wade Henderson

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, speaking at the NELP 40th Anniversary Gala.

Last night, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) celebrated 40 years of working to protect the employment rights of low-wage workers.  NELP presented a moving tribute to Senator Edward M. Kennedy for his leadership in fighting for workplace equality and honored several workers' rights allies, including Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

"Workers' rights have always been civil and human rights," Henderson said. "Sixty years ago, A. Philip Randolph, a labor leader and one of the founders of the Leadership Conference said, 'the two tickets to a better life are a voter registration card and a union card.'  That lesson still holds true today."

NELP also honored the work of Jon Hiatt, AFL-CIO general counsel; Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network; and the National Employment Lawyers Association and its executive director, Terisa Chaw.

Christine Owens, executive director of NELP, celebrated the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act earlier this year and emphasized the importance of passing the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would restore workers' right to organize.

"As long as there are workers who need a voice and a place at the table, NELP will be there to fight for them," Owens said.

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'Shriver Report' Highlights the Changing Role of Women at Work, at Home, and Beyond

October 21, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

A new report by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress is calling attention to changing gender dynamics of the American family and workplace and this shift's potential to affect public policy and policies that businesses adopt. 

"The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything" found that half of all American workers are women, that mothers are the primary breadwinner or co-breadwinner in two-thirds of American families, and that women are now more likely than men to graduate from college. 

However, the report also explains that in spite of these changes, women are still earning only 77 cents for each dollar men earn and are still difficult to find in leading positions of America's most successful companies.  In addition, the rise of women in the workplace has sparked serious debate about how children are affected growing up without a stay-at-home parent. 

Based upon these findings, the report argues that all American institutions must adapt to the new dynamic of the workforce and family by embracing policies that help working American families and businesses, like flexible work hours, paid medical leave, child care, and elderly care.

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Franken Amendment Would Forbid Unfair Forced Arbitration by Government Contractors

October 20, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Civil rights groups are supporting an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Act for 2010 by Sen. Al Franken, D. Minn., which would deny taxpayer funding to defense contractors who force arbitration upon their employees in cases of sexual abuse and harassment and other egregious forms of unlawful job discrimination.

Forced arbitration clauses require a consumer or employee to agree to settle any disputes in arbitration before a private third party hired to review and settle disputes. They also forbid an individual from suing, participating in class action lawsuits, or appealing the arbiter's decision.  These clauses often surprise consumers and employees who are unaware of forced arbitration policies in the fine print of many types of contracts.

Franken's amendment comes as a response to the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, who was viciously assaulted and raped by co-workers while working for Halliburton/Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) in Iraq.  Under the forced arbitration clause of her employment agreement, Jones (whose case is still in court) may be prevented from suing Halliburton and instead forced to go through secret, binding arbitration. 

In a letter to Sen. Daniel Inouye, D. Hawaii, and Rep. John Murtha, D. Pa., signed by 24 civil rights groups, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights said that the amendment must be passed in its current form to cover all Title VII employment discrimination claims.

"Unless Title VII claims are included, other forms of discrimination – not connected to sexual violence but nevertheless egregious and intolerable – would continue to be swept under the rug of forced arbitration," the letter states.

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Rebuilding Efforts Dampen Effects of Recession in New Orleans

August 21, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

The continuing effort to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina has partially sheltered the city from the national economic crisis.

Although unemployment rose from 5 percent to 7.3 percent this year, it remains below the national rate of 9.5 percent. According to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, in the first quarter of 2009, New Orleans had the sixth lowest unemployment rate among the 100 largest cities.

The city's industrial composition has allowed it to escape the massive layoffs that have plagued other cities. Manufacturing and construction, the industries hardest hit by the national recession, make up a small portion of the New Orleans economy. Instead, New Orleans' largest sectors (trade and transportation, leisure and hospitality, and education and health services) either added jobs or remained the same. 

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Proposed Legislation Forbids Use of Credit Reports in Hiring

August 7, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

New legislation in Congress would prohibit employers from accessing potential employees' consumer credit reports for the purpose of making hiring decisions. 

Some employers use credit reports in hiring due to a belief that credit history is an indicator of future job performance, though research has shown this to be false.  Nevertheless, the number of employers using applicants' personal financial information in hiring has risen to 43 percent in recent years.

Not only is credit history irrelevant to job performance, but use of consumer credit reports also discriminates against low-income people and minorities with low credit scores, which could prevent them from getting jobs that they need. 

One-third of people earning less than $45,000 a year have poor credit.  Also, according to a 2004 study, the average credit scores of African Americans and Latinos are lower than that of Whites.

"There is no social science to support the assumption that credit histories reliably predict success on the job…this law would help to stop the vicious cycle of those who seek new job opportunities to pay their creditors but cannot obtain work because they lost a job and have been unable to pay their creditors," said Audrey Wiggins, director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law's Employment Discrimination.

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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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