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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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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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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