185 Lawmakers Join AFGE in Opposing EEOC Rule Aimed at Curtailing Civil Rights

Categories: The Insider

One hundred eighty-five House lawmakers joined AFGE in opposing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)’s proposed regulation that would undermine its own mission and make it harder for federal workers to fight discrimination in the workplace.   

Currently, federal agencies are required to grant a reasonable amount of official time to union representatives when they help their coworkers file an employment discrimination complaint against the employer. Under the EEOC’s proposed rule, union reps wouldn’t be given official time to help their coworkers, which could effectively discourage employees from filing a complaint either because they are not familiar with the EEO process or don’t have the money to hire a lawyer to help them.   

By denying federal employees their choice of a union rep with knowledge and experience in EEO issues, the EEOC is making it harder for federal employees to address matters of discrimination and harassment in the workplace.   

COVID-19 may also raise issues for those in any protected class including race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age (40 or older), and disability. Even during this trying time, the EEOC is pushing ahead with plans to delegitimize our union and take away our ability to represent our members. 

“With our entire nation examining how we can move forward and ensure fair treatment for all Americans, the EEOC is trying to turn back the clock on the progress we’ve already made and make it harder to address discrimination in the workplace,” said AFGE President Everett Kelley. “EEOC has an important civil rights mission, and with this role, it should be promoting robust enforcement, not making access harder for those who are vulnerable.” 

Since the EEOC proposed the rule late last year, thousands of AFGE members sprang into action, bombarding the agency with more than 11,000 comments opposing the rule during both rounds of comments.  

185 members of Congress join the fight   

Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.)led 185 members in opposing the EEOC proposed rule.   

“Over the past 40 years, complainants have often chosen co-workers who serve in an official capacity with the union to represent them in the employment discrimination complaint process […] The proposed rule, because it would deny the official time requirement for union representatives, would also deny the experience and expertise that union representatives offer to discrimination complainants,” the members wrote in a July 29 letter to EEOC Chair Janet Dhillon. “The loss of their experience and expertise will negatively affect the equal employment opportunity process, which will become less efficient and effective as a result.”   

They laid out how the proposed rule would undermine the rights of federal employees and harm the mission of the EEOC:  

  • The proposed rule would undermine the existing right of federal employees “to be accompanied, represented, and advised by a representative of complainant’s choice.” Federal agencies are obligated to uphold the right of representation.  
  • The proposed rule would subject the right of representation to a manager’s personnel decision: whether to grant annual leave to the complainant’s union rep. Subjecting a complainant’s representative to the discretion of a manager undermines the right of representation that the current regulations require.  
  • The proposed rule undermines the efficiency and effectiveness of the equal employment opportunity process. Through their repeated experience with the equal employment opportunity process, union reps understand the technical details of the EEO process – timelines, requirements and protocols. The proposed rule would deny complainants the experience and expertise that union representatives can offer.  
  • The proposed rule undermines the mission of the EEOC. The proposed rule would increase both the number of complainants who lack adequate representation and the financial costs to complainants, who may feel it necessary to hire private counsel to replace the union representation that they would receive under current rules. Both consequences undermine the mission of the EEOC.   

The lawmakers also find it highly suspicious that the comment period of the proposed rule was reopened after it was closed on Feb. 10, 2020. The second comment period started June 1 and ended July 31.   

“We, of course, support the opportunity for those interested or affected by proposed rules to be able to comment on them. But in this case, there was tremendous response. These comments were overwhelmingly opposed to the rule change. We are concerned that this second period has occurred for the purpose of soliciting comments in support of the rule change that did not materialize on their own the first time, while ignoring the comments opposed to the rule,” they wrote.   

“Therefore, we, including one of us who previously served as the chair of the EEOC, respectfully request that the EEOC reject the proposed rule. Federal employees should continue to be able to choose the representative they prefer, and that choice should continue to include union representatives,” they added.   

Education and Labor Committee Chairman Scott (D-Va.), Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Maloney (D-N.Y.), Representatives Raskin (D-Md.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Bonamici (D-Oregon) sponsored an amendment to H.R. 7617, one of the House Appropriations packages to block any funds from being used to implement the EEOC Official Time proposed rule. This amendment was passed by voice vote on July 30, 2020. 

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