Union Leaders Laud Senate OK Of Employment Non-Discrimination Act

WASHINGTON —Union leaders lauded Senate passage Nov. 7 of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a measure banning hiring discrimination against gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered people.

But the 64-32 margin, which included 10 Senate Republicans, masked problems facing ENDA in the GOP-run House.  There, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has already declared he won’t bring it to a vote because the measure could lead to lawsuits.

Boehner’s opposition to even considering ENDA prompted calls from two union presidents, Mary Kay Henry of the Service Employees and James Hoffa of the Teamsters, that Boehner rethink the issue and let the bill come to a vote.  Henry is one of three openly gay union presidents.  The Teachers’ Randi Weingarten is another.

“In 2013, it’s difficult to believe that in many parts of the country, it’s legal to fire workers for their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.  “In fact, 52% of the LGBT population lives in states that do not prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  Studies show that more than one in five LGBT workers report discrimination on the job.

         “The country has long had national laws that protect workers from being fired based on their race, gender, religion, disability or other characteristics of their identity.  But sexual and gender identity have no federal protections in the workplace, and we need to change that.

            “We in the labor movement affirm everyone should have equal access to workplace rights.  ENDA would finally make this a reality for our LGBT brothers and sisters,” he concluded.  Other comments included:

• “Workers for more than a century have joined forces to protect each other from intolerance and favoritism,” said Hoffa of the Teamsters.  “We support ENDA because we stand for fair treatment of all workers, as we always have.  Workers cannot be divided for any reason, whether it be race, religion, ethnicity, gender or any other basis.  I urge the House of Representatives to look into their hearts and take the same course.”

• “ENDA would extend fair employment practices under federal law to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community,” Pride@Work, the AFL-CIO’s gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender group says on its website.  “It does not create any ‘special rights,’ but simply affords to all Americans basic protection from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity…ENDA creates in federal law the labor practice of honoring a person’s work for their work, not for who they are.”

            SEIU’S Henry called the Senate vote “a huge victory for LGBT workers across America who live in states where they have no protection against discrimination and bigotry on the job.”  While lauding “great progress” in the Senate’s approval of ENDA, she warned that “there is still an enormous amount of work to do.

“As is often the case these days, the burden now rests on the House to finish the job.  Americans overwhelmingly support federal protection for workers against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  Yet Boehner made his opposition to ENDA quite clear, citing absurd reasons like frivolous lawsuits and lost jobs.  If Boehner prevents ENDA from receiving a fair up-or-down vote, he will find himself in history textbooks as the Speaker who prevented landmark civil rights legislation from becoming law.  The House must pass ENDA and carry out the will of the American people.”

AFT’s Weingarten noted the Senate vote was bipartisan, saying lawmakers “joined together across aisles and ideologies, and took a giant step toward eliminating discrimination for LGBT working Americans.  In the American psyche, it has become common sense that all workers — gay or straight, transgender or not — should be judged based on the quality of their work, not on who they love or who they are.

“Final passage of ENDA is vital.  As an educator” – Weingarten is a social studies teacher in New York City schools – “I know tour schools will be safer and more welcoming places for students to thrive and for teachers not to have to hide.  As a labor leader, I know fairness in the workplace and dignity for all workers are essential for a thriving middle class.  As a lesbian, I know future generations should never experience the discrimination that my generation and generations before mine had to endure.”

-PAI