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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Advocate Discusses Fighting Workplace Discrimination in Latest AFGE Documentary

Agency has struggled to serve workers with shrinking budget, union leader Gabrielle Martin says

I AM AFGE@

WASHINGTON – In the 50 years since the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s mission to protect employees from job-related discrimination has expanded as our nation has become more determined to enforce equal rights under the law for all Americans.

EEOC’s initial focus on discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin has grown to cover age, disability, genetic information, and more recently transgender status and gender identity.

But EEOC’s budget has not kept pace, says Gabrielle Martin, president of the American Federation of Government Employees council representing EEOC employees. “We have been woefully underfunded for most of our existence,” Gabrielle says.

The budget cuts required under sequestration have hit EEOC especially hard, resulting in unfilled vacancies that mean longer wait times for employees facing discrimination to receive assistance from the agency. It currently takes nine months on average for EEOC to investigate a case once it’s been filed, Gabrielle says.

“A pregnant woman who loses her job early in her pregnancy is really damaged by the passage of time. There’s the loss of the job, the benefits and really the destruction of a family unit that may be occurring behind that loss of job,” she says.

Gabrielle shares her story in the latest documentary produced by the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents Gabrielle and thousands of other bargaining unit employees throughout EEOC. The documentary series is part of AFGE’s year-long campaign, “I Am AFGE,” to increase the public’s awareness and appreciation of the women and men who work for them every day.

“There is nothing more insulting to an employee or job applicant than being treated unfairly on the basis of factors that have nothing to do with their ability to do the job,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. “The women and men who work for the EEOC are often the only advocates for these employees, and they are doing a remarkable job with limited resources and attention.”

AFGE Council 216 represents all professional and nonprofessional General Schedule employees at EEOC, including investigators, attorneys, paralegals, mediators, administrative judges, and support staff.

Gabrielle says EEOC relies on labor unions to help counsel employees who are facing discrimination and walk them through the process for filing discrimination complaints. In the federal sector, unions like AFGE file complaints on behalf of employees and represent them throughout the process.

Gabrielle recalls hearing stories from her mother about her grandfather meeting with coworkers late at night in an effort to form a union for black employees at the U.S. Postal Service in Chicago. The stories resonated with Gabrielle’s mother and with Gabrielle herself, who joined AFGE to advocate on behalf of government workers.

Gabrielle’s story is one of 15 short-form documentaries being released by AFGE every three weeks through the end of the year, highlighting individual federal employees who carry out important work across the country.

All of the videos are being posted online and distributed to hundreds of news outlets across the country. The campaign also is being promoted through social media, an employee photo contest and other events.

“For 50 years, EEOC employees have served a vital role in ensuring our workplaces are free of discrimination and open to everyone,” President Cox said. “They and all other government employees have dedicated their careers to serving the public. This campaign is our way of thanking them for their service and reminding Americans of the valuable work they do.”

Budget Cuts Threaten Enforcement Of Job Discrimination Laws (from @AFGE)

EEOC faces employee furloughs at time of record high discrimination complaints, AFGE says

Potential budget cuts from sequestration would devastate the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s ability to enforce laws that protect American workers from job discrimination, according to the American Federation of Government Employees.

The sequestration scheduled to take place in March would slash an estimated $23 million to $30 million from EEOC’s $360 million annual budget, which amounts to a cut of between 6.5% and 8.2%. Given that the bulk of EEOC’s budget goes to pay employee salaries and expenses, EEOC would have no choice but to lay off workers without pay for extended periods of time.

“EEOC simply cannot absorb a cut of this magnitude,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. “This cut would cripple the agency’s ability to enforce laws that protect against workplace discrimination. EEOC cannot enforce laws without frontline staff allowed to be on the job.”

EEOC already has been suffering under the second year of an unprecedented budget cut, which has reduced its budget each year by $7 million. Because EEOC is a small and historically underfunded agency, even this “haircut” has meant the loss of 9% of the agency’s staff.

To make matters worse, these cuts are occurring at a time when workload is way up. EEOC has seen historically high charge filings during the past three years, receiving 99,412 charges of workplace discrimination in fiscal 2012 alone. EEOC continues to struggle with an unacceptable backlog of 70,312 cases and average processing times exceeding nine months.

“These extended delays represent lost opportunities for Americans who want to work.  Cutting EEOC is counterintuitive at a time when job creation is the nation’s priority, because the agency’s mission is all about jobs,” said Gabrielle Martin, president of AFGE’s National Council of EEOC Locals, No. 216.

It is anticipated that, in the event of extended employee furloughs, EEOC would ensure that the intake of new discrimination complaints remained open. However, there would be no staff available to process these cases, so the backlog would skyrocket, Martin said.

“For all intents and purposes, the United States would cease to have enforceable civil rights in the workplace should sequestration occur,” she said.

AFGE represents employees on the front lines of protecting civil rights in the workplace. EEOC’s investigators, attorneys, mediators, administrative judges and other staff contribute to job creation by enforcing this nation’s civil rights laws, which protect against discrimination on the job based on race, religion, color, national origin, sex, age disability and now genetics.

AFGE is calling on Congress to avoid sequestration and employee furloughs in fiscal 2013. Going forward, EEOC’s budget for fiscal 2014 must be restored to at least $367 million, which would match EEOC’s operating budgets in 2010 and 2011.

 

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