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April 24, 2009

Democratic and labor groups join forces to pass two bills

Washington, D.C.--What do LGBT job bias protections have to do with workers’ ability to join unions? Plenty, according to the Stonewall Democrats and Pride at Work. The two groups have teamed up to pass a pair of bills related to both.

The National Stonewall Democrats are an LGBT group operating within the Democratic Party. Pride at Work is an LGBT group within the AFL-CIO.

Together, the two have launched a project to help push the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Employee Free Choice Act through Congress.

ENDA, which has not been introduced yet this year, protects LGBT workers from discrimination by sexual orientation or gender identity.

EFCA was introduced in the House by California Democrat George Miller and in the Senate by Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy. It will make it easier for workers to organize, join unions and bargain collectively.

The joint project, launched April 20, is designed to bring organized labor to support LGBT issues in a more genuine way, according to Stonewall Democrats director Jon Hoadley.

The two groups have come up with a budget of $150,000 to $200,000 to  pass both bills, including union members released from work to organize around them. There is also a website, www.sharedagenda.org.

“We want people to draw the connections,” Hoadley said, “between the two protections.”

“Our community looks to ENDA as a panacea for ills,” Hoadley continued, “but it has exclusions and doesn’t offer benefits.”

“EFCA makes it easier for all workers to work under a contract, which is negotiated and legally binding,” Hoadley said. “Often, in areas where there is no non-discrimination protection in the law, it is the union contract that protects LGBT workers, gives health insurance and provides partner benefits.”

Pride at Work director Jeremy Bishop did not return calls for this report by press time.

Hoadley said the two of them started talking about the joint effort in November as a way of pushing congressional Democrats whose support for either bill can’t be taken for granted.

But Hoadley said it is also a way to educate union members about LGBT equality issues in the workplace.

“Union leaders have been with us on ENDA for a long time,” Hoadley said, “but union membership hasn’t.”

“One of the big things we can do is start conversations with rank and file members,” Hoadley said, “It’s those water-cooler conversations with peers that are genuine and unscripted.”

“Those conversations have multiple levels of value,” Hoadley said.

“At the end of the day, it’s about more allies and more cooperation,” Hoadley said, adding that this approach could initiate conversations about LGBT equality with union members who might not otherwise give it a thought.

Hoadley said the Senate Democrats will need the most targeting on both bills, “and we will need to pick up one Republican in the Senate, too.”

“We know there are Democrats there who will get cold feet on both bills, and this is about building grassroots persuasion and a chance to amplify the message as to why both bills are good.”

“This is an example of genuine coalition building to win the fights we want to win,” Hoadley said.

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