WASHINGTON, D.C.—More than 100 members of Congress are urging a House Appropriations subcommittee to reject an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) request to use funding from its fiscal 2005 appropriation to set up a privatized national customer service center and close and consolidate field offices.
The American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, which represents 600,000 government employees in the United States and overseas, including at the EEOC, is supporting these House members in their effort to halt steps to drastically alter the agency.
In a letter sent June 8 to the House Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary Appropriations Subcommittee, 102 members of Congress said proposals being considered “could diminish the ability of the EEOC to perform its important mission of helping working Americans to fight back against discrimination in the workplace.” Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) led the effort on the letter.
The subcommittee is marking up its funding bill on Wednesday, June 16. All Americans concerned about EEOC’s mission being compromised by management’s privatization and downsizing schemes are following the subcommittee’s work with great interest.
Andrea Brooks, AFGE’s National Vice President for Women and Fair Practices, said: “The agency is moving forward with a plan to strip federal employees of their jobs by closing or consolidating district offices. If allowed to proceed, they would dismantle the agency and separate it from its current mission of preventing discrimination in the workplace. I applaud the members of Congress for seeing this for what it is.”
Federal attorneys, mediators, and investigators are “high performers when it comes to staffing call centers” and providing the public with advice and counsel, the letter says. It cited a 2002 study by Purdue University’s Center for Customer-Driven Quality that says federal call centers provide better customer service than centers run by state and local agencies or private firms. The Purdue study also says that privatized call centers, particularly those set up to handle complicated inquiries about legal rights and protections, “can result in inferior service and increased costs.”
The letter also cited a study conducted by the American Immigration Lawyers of America in 2003 which said service “deteriorated dramatically” when the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services cut off access to its service centers and instead directed callers to use a privatized call center.
On October 27, 2003 EEOC Chair Cari Dominguez launched an “initial restructuring proposal” that would, among other things, establish a privatized national call center for handling questions from the public on legal rights and protections. The EEOC also would eliminate federal workers’ rights to a hearing, create an electronic filing system for claims that would shut out workers, and cut funding for investigations and litigation.
In its fiscal 2004 budget request, the EEOC proposed to spend $5 million on workforce restructuring, including for a national contact center handled by consultants. Congress, however, did not provide this funding in its final appropriation for the agency.
Information EEOC submitted to the House Appropriations subcommittee in response to questions it posed shows that the agency has already spent or obligated $1 million toward the privatized call center. Dominguez earlier had assured Congress that no money was being spent on the proposal. In its fiscal 2005 budget request, the agency again requested $5 million for “workforce restructuring,” including for the privatized call center.
The letter reads, “We believe that these proposals could diminish the ability of the EEOC to perform its important mission of helping working Americans to fight back against discrimination in the workplace. Therefore, we ask that you include language in this year’s appropriations bill to prevent the agency from moving forward with its attempts to establish a privatized call center and close regional offices.”
“On behalf of the dedicated employees of the EEOC, as well as all individuals who care about employment rights, the National Council of EEOC Locals wants to thank the signatories for sending a strong and welcome message that the EEOC must take seriously its mission to protect the right to a workplace free from discrimination,” says Gabrielle Martin, President of the National Council of EEOC Locals.
The EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. It also enforces the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which prohibits discrimination against individuals 40 years of age or older; sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991; the Equal Pay Act; Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in the private sector and state and local governments; and the Rehabilitation Act's prohibitions against discrimination in the federal government.