October 6, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
‘Rank & File’ union endorses ENDA executive order

A labor union that bills itself as an organization for “rank and file” workers adopted a pro-LGBT resolution at a recent convention that includes an endorsement for an executive order protecting LGBT people against workplace discrimination.

The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America last week approved the resolution on the need to end anti-LGBT discrimination at its 72nd national convention in Pittsburgh, Pa.

The two-page resolution, titled “End Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation,” says the “most powerful weapon in the bosses’ arsenal is divide and conquer” and workers are strongest when they’re united, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“We all should have the same rights regardless of color, gender, age, or sexual orientation,” the resolution states.”Unity and solidarity are not conditions we take for granted. We must continue to educate ourselves and our co-workers to maintain and strengthen our unity in the face of employer efforts to divide the workforce.”

The second page of the resolution enumerates nine points by which to move forward with an end to anti-LGBT discrimination. The points include opposition to “attempts to codify marriage discrimination,” passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Additionally, the resolution endorses the idea of President Obama issuing an executive order prohibiting federal money from going to contractors that don’t have their own non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The resolution “[c]alls on the Obama administration to issue an executive order expanding the nondiscrimination provision in federal contracts to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, which would have an extraordinary effect in helping to eradicate discrimination in workplaces receiving federal dollars.”

President Obama supports and campaigned on passage of ENDA, but where he stands on an executive order prohibiting LGBT workplace discrimination is unknown. The Obama administration hasn’t said one way or the other whether it will issue the order.

Chris Townsend, UE’s political action director, said his union has continually adopted standalone pro-LGBT resolution at its conventions, which are now held biennially, for about 15 years.

Townsend said the provision on the executive order was adopted because ”it just struck us as something this White House could do” and union members wouldn’t want their employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. He added he doesn’t know if this resolution is the first to mention such an executive order.

According to the ACLU, the resolution was adopted by voice vote and no delegates rose to object or amend the measure even though it went through the normal convention process in which there was opportunity to comment, support, oppose, or amend the document.

UE is made up of about 35,000 members. Half of them come from the manufacturing sector and half from the service industry. The Pittsburgh-based labor union recently celebrated its 75th anniversary.

Ian Thompson, the ACLU’s legislative representative, called the document “a groundbreaking resolution” and “a powerful statement of support for LGBT Americans, including those in our community who are proud union members.”

“By recognizing the devastating role that employment discrimination plays in the lives of far too many LGBT workers, the resolution is also a reminder of the refrain ‘an injury to one is an injury to all,’ Thompson said. “It is great to see a national labor union come out in such strong, unambiguous support of LGBT people.”

UE’s endorsement of the directive is similar to the support the endorsement has from Mary Kay Henry, who’s openly gay and president of the Service Employees International Union. Henry, who leads the fastest-growing labor union, endorsed the order in an interview with the Washington Blade in June at Netroots Nation.

Lawmakers who’ve endorsed the executive order are gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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