September 11, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
AFL-CIO pledges to ‘redouble’ efforts to pass ENDA
Labor Thomas Perez has commended the AFL-CIO for supporting ENDA (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez has commended the AFL-CIO for supporting ENDA. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

The nation’s largest federation of labor unions on Wednesday passed a resolution pledging to “redouble” its efforts to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

The AFL-CIO approved the measure, Resolution 37, to reaffirm its support for ENDA at its constitutional convention this week in Los Angeles.

“The AFL-CIO will redouble our support for the passage of ENDA and continue this work until every worker — gay or straight, transgender or not — is treated with dignity and respect on the job,” the resolution states. “We urge all national and international unions to join in the effort to pass ENDA and to use their influence to sway those members of Congress who will be instrumental in the bill’s passage.”

The resolution was initiated by the American Federation of Teachers, an organized headed by Randi Weingarten, a lesbian and Democratic activist.

In a statement after the resolution was approved, Weingarten said recent victories for marriage equality at the ballot and the Supreme Court are generating “momentum on our side for ENDA to become the law of the land.”

“The fear of being discriminated against based on sexual orientation deters people from stepping up to serve our communities and reach for the stars,” Weingarten said. “We need to recommit ourselves to knocking down barriers for working people and stand up for equal treatment under our laws.”

The AFL-CIO was previously on the record in support of ENDA. According to the Americans for Workplace Opportunities campaign, the labor organization had signed a letter from the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights in favor of the legislation. The resolution itself says AFL-CIO had a adopted a similar measure in 2009.

But the latest resolution emphasizes that a stronger voice is needed at this time to pass ENDA as the legislation nears a vote.

“The momentum of marriage equality, and the changing tide of public opinion, clears the way for the swift passage of ENDA,” the resolution states.

The resolution touts without federal law, union contracts are the only thing in place prohibiting discrimination against LGBT workers in states lacking workplace protections.

“Without ENDA, the only protection many LGBT workers have is their union contracts,” the resolution states. “Union workers can be fired only with just cause and often have access to grievance procedures and arbitration. Additionally, many union contracts do what the law does not: protect workers against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The manner in which the AFL-CIO passed the resolution or the vote by which it succeeded wasn’t immediately known. AFL-CIO didn’t immediately respond to a request to answer questions about the resolution.

The labor organization passes the resolution in the aftermath of a speech from Labor Secretary Thomas Perez on Tuesday to the AFL-CIO in which he noted members have previously worked in support of the ENDA among other initiatives.

Perez said the AFL-CIO has “worked as hard as anyone” and was there “to ensure pay equity for women and work together to pass ENDA so our LGBT brothers and sisters can’t be fired for who they are.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, praised the AFL-CIO for passing the resolution and said it will help move ENDA through both chambers of Congress.

“In the year 2013, nobody should be making excuses for why we can’t launch a full campaign to pass ENDA through both chambers of Congress, not just quitting after one chamber,” Almeida said. “The labor movement does not make excuses, and neither should LGBT organizations.”

Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Americans for Workplace Opportunity, also said he welcomes the endorsement from AFL-CIO because it demonstrates ENDA has strong support.

“The AFL-CIO’s strong endorsement of workplace protections is a major and welcome development in the fight to protect American workers from discrimination,” McTighe said. “It’s rare to see an issue where the leading voices in the labor movement and the business community are so united, but most Americans fundamentally agree that employees should be judged on job performance, nothing more, nothing less.

The AFL-CIO approves the resolution just as lawmakers return from August recess and LGBT advocates anticipate on Senate floor on ENDA sometime this fall.

Almeida said he thinks passage of the resolution will help persuade the three undecided Senate Democrats on ENDA — Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — to vote in favor of the bill because of their support for labor.

For example, Almeida said Manchin would be more inclined to vote for ENDA because West Virginia has many labor workers in the mining industry.

“The United Mine Workers of the AFL-CIO is a very important voice for fairness in West Virginia, and we hope that Senator Manchin will hear that call from our labor movement friends who want to give all American workers a fair shot at a job no matter who they are or who they love,” Almeida said.

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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