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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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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.

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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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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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