WASHINGTON – In the 50 years since the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s mission to protect employees from job-related discrimination has expanded as our nation has become more determined to enforce equal rights under the law for all Americans.
EEOC’s initial focus on discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin has grown to cover age, disability, genetic information, and more recently transgender status and gender identity.
But EEOC’s budget has not kept pace, says Gabrielle Martin, president of the American Federation of Government Employees council representing EEOC employees. “We have been woefully underfunded for most of our existence,” Gabrielle says.
The budget cuts required under sequestration have hit EEOC especially hard, resulting in unfilled vacancies that mean longer wait times for employees facing discrimination to receive assistance from the agency. It currently takes nine months on average for EEOC to investigate a case once it’s been filed, Gabrielle says.
“A pregnant woman who loses her job early in her pregnancy is really damaged by the passage of time. There’s the loss of the job, the benefits and really the destruction of a family unit that may be occurring behind that loss of job,” she says.
“There is nothing more insulting to an employee or job applicant than being treated unfairly on the basis of factors that have nothing to do with their ability to do the job,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. “The women and men who work for the EEOC are often the only advocates for these employees, and they are doing a remarkable job with limited resources and attention.”
AFGE Council 216 represents all professional and nonprofessional General Schedule employees at EEOC, including investigators, attorneys, paralegals, mediators, administrative judges, and support staff.
Gabrielle says EEOC relies on labor unions to help counsel employees who are facing discrimination and walk them through the process for filing discrimination complaints. In the federal sector, unions like AFGE file complaints on behalf of employees and represent them throughout the process.
Gabrielle recalls hearing stories from her mother about her grandfather meeting with coworkers late at night in an effort to form a union for black employees at the U.S. Postal Service in Chicago. The stories resonated with Gabrielle’s mother and with Gabrielle herself, who joined AFGE to advocate on behalf of government workers.
Gabrielle’s story is one of 15 short-form documentaries being released by AFGE every three weeks through the end of the year, highlighting individual federal employees who carry out important work across the country.
All of the videos are being posted online and distributed to hundreds of news outlets across the country. The campaign also is being promoted through social media, an employee photo contest and other events.
“For 50 years, EEOC employees have served a vital role in ensuring our workplaces are free of discrimination and open to everyone,” President Cox said. “They and all other government employees have dedicated their careers to serving the public. This campaign is our way of thanking them for their service and reminding Americans of the valuable work they do.”