September 18, 2013 at 7:40 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
U.S. Chamber of Commerce stays neutral on ENDA
U.S. Chamber of Commerce, gay news, Washington Blade

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is neutral on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA. (Photo by Almonroth; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

Amid growing support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act from companies large and small ahead of an expected Senate vote this fall, the nation’s largest lobbying group representing business and trade interests remains neutral on the legislation.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s neutrality on ENDA is noteworthy in the aftermath the AFL-CIO adopting a resolution to “redouble” efforts to pass the bill.

Blair Latoff Holmes, a Chamber spokesperson, affirmed the Chamber’s neutrality on ENDA adding the organization continues conversations with supporters of the bill.

“Since ENDA’s introduction, the Chamber has been in contact with proponents of the bills, both on the Hill and off,” Holmes said. “Consistent with our prior positions on the bill, the Chamber remains neutral on ENDA.”

Holmes didn’t respond to a follow-up email asking whether any change could be made to ENDA to win the Chamber’s endorsement.

But LGBT advocates working to pass the bill say they’re happy with the Chamber’s neutrality on ENDA because the lack of interference of a powerful business lobbying group enables Republicans to support the bill.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said the neutrality of the Chamber on ENDA is “a huge victory” considering the group regularly opposes expansions of workplace protections proposed to Congress.

“It may be that the Exxon Mobils of the world, who are dragging their feet on LGBT workplace fairness are the reason the Chamber cannot get to an official ‘yes,'” Almeida said. “But regardless of the reasoning, the Chamber’s neutrality is incredibly helpful and we raise their neutrality when we speak to Republican senators, Republican members of the House and Republican staff on Capitol Hill.”

Still, Almeida said he’d like the Chamber to come out in favor of the legislation. He declined to comment on whether Freedom to Work has had conversations with the Chamber to convince the organization to support ENDA.

The Chamber was neutral on ENDA in 2007, when a gay-only version of the bill lacking trans-inclusive language came to a vote on the House floor.

Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Americans for Workplace Opportunity, said he doesn’t expect the Chamber’s neutrality to change even though many companies have now expressed support for ENDA.

“The fact that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce does not oppose ENDA is helpful,” McTighe said. “While we don’t expect the Chamber to alter their current position, an ever-increasing number of businesses of all sizes in the U.S. do support the legislation.”

Earlier this month, as McTighe noted, UBS and Moody’s — two leading financial services firms — joined the business coalition of Fortune 500 companies and small businesses that have come out in support of ENDA.

Jeff Cook-McCormac, senior adviser to the pro-LGBT Republican group American Unity Fund, said his group is working with members of the business community to pass ENDA when asked about his views on the Chamber’s position.

“The private sector has been leagues ahead of government on non-discrimination for years,” Cook-McCormac said. “Business and labor leaders alike both recognize that non-discrimination is not only the right thing to do, it’s the best policy for businesses that need to compete for talented individuals and want their employees focused on getting the job done instead of fearing discrimination.”

The Family Research Council didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on whether the Chamber’s neutrality on ENDA was helping its opposition to the bill.

Despite the general satisfaction, some LGBT advocates say an endorsement from the Chamber would bring the organization into alignment with the companies it represents and provide a much needed boost to ENDA.

Michael Fleming, executive director of the David Bohnett Foundation, which contributes funds to LGBT causes, said having the Chamber endorse ENDA would have a positive impact.

“So many companies — big and small — are on the record supporting policies like ENDA, because they know they’re both the right thing to do and good for their bottom lines,” Fleming said. “Having the Chamber endorse ENDA would likely reflect the internal policies of their members. It would also, I think, move some members of Congress from considering supporting ENDA to fully and publicly endorsing the bill.”

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said he’s comfortable with the Chamber’s current position on ENDA, but the organization could help by coming out in favor of the bill.

“Eagerness to know the Chamber’s position on ENDA comes up a lot in my meetings with Republicans on the Hill,” Angelo said. “Knowing that the Chamber is neutral on ENDA is always welcomed; having their full support would only help bring more Republican supporters to the bill.”

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

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