by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
A coalition of some of the country's largest human rights organizations and labor unions have launched a new campaign to pass ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. ENDA would ban discrimination in hiring, advancement, or firing because of sexual orientation and gender identity.
In a statement released July 31, the coalition, calling itself Americans for Workplace Opportunity, said it would raise $2 million to achieve its goal.
The group's steering committee includes the ACLU, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), American Unity Fund, HRC, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
The coalition also announced it had hired Matt McTighe as campaign manager. McTighe ran the successful 2012 campaign to win marriage equality in Maine, and more recently served as director of the Gill Action Fund's Marriage Project.
'No one should be fired for who they are or who they love, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is a bipartisan, common-sense way to put those values into federal law,' McTighe said in a statement. 'Our campaign will mobilize the supermajority of diverse Americans who believe in workplace fairness and push Congress to act on ENDA this year.'
One of the organizations in the coalition, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, also sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to co-sponsor ENDA.
Eighty-eight organizations signed on to the letter. Among them were the AFL-CIO and eight of its largest unions; SEIU, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), and the National Education Association, which are not affiliated with the AFL-CIO; the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, the Japanese American Citizens League, and many other groups based in communities of color; and all the largest LGBT rights organizations.
'Our organizations are dedicated to the principle that every worker should be judged solely on his or her merits,' their letter said.
'Hardworking Americans should not be kept from supporting their families and making a positive contribution to the economic life of our nation because of characteristics that have no bearing whatsoever on their ability to do a job. However, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Americans continue to experience high rates of discrimination in the workplace based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.'
SENATE BILL ADVANCES
The latest incarnation of ENDA got a hearing in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee on July 10. The HELP committee, of which Washington's senior senator, Patty Murray, is a member, voted 15-7 to send the bill to the full Senate, with three Republicans joining all the committee's Democrats in approving it.
ENDA failed to make it through the House Education and Labor Committee in 2009, when Democrats had a majority, and its path forward in the current Republican-controlled House is unclear. A version that excluded Transgender workers passed the House in 2007, but was never introduced in the Senate. The current version is Trans-inclusive.
Currently, 16 states - including Washington - and the District of Columbia have enacted laws that prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Another five states bar job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but not gender identity.
While these state laws provide important protections, employers in a majority of states can still fire, refuse to hire, or otherwise discriminate against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. ENDA would not only protect those workers, but would also allow the federal government to intervene if state remedies for anti-Gay or anti-Trans discrimination are not forthcoming.
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