Anti-bias agency grappling with low staffing and budget cuts
WASHINGTON – The union representing employees at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says hiring more staff to address a growing workload of #MeToo discrimination claims is the top priority facing the agency’s newly confirmed leader.
On May 8, the Senate voted 50-43 to confirm Janet Dhillon as chair of the EEOC, the independent federal agency charged with enforcing U.S. laws that bar discrimination in the workplace. She was sworn in today.
President Trump’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 would slash the EEOC’s historically low budget by $23.7 million, even while the agency is facing rising workloads.
“Slashing the EEOC’s budget will make it harder for workers facing discrimination to get the help they need,” said Rachel Shonfield, first vice president of American Federation of Government Employees Council 216, the National Council of EEOC Locals.
Sexual harassment claims were up 13.6 percent in 2018, sparked by the #MeToo movement, while EEOC’s workforce dropped below 2,000 employees for the first time since before 1980. The president’s budget plan would slash another 180 positions, including mediators, judges, intake representatives, and 50 investigators.
“It takes workers facing discrimination months to get an appointment with EEOC and over an hour to reach a live person by telephone,” Shonfield said. “That is an injustice not only to those who are seeking help, but also to the employees who are doing the best they can with limited resources.”
Maintaining a long tradition, AFGE Council 216 has issued a list of Top 10 priorities facing the new EEOC chair.
- Hire front-line field staff. Dhillon should use EEOC’s limited hiring authority to add staff to handle the huge annual workload of 200,000 inquiries, 76,418 charges, 40,000 interviews, and 105,600 calls.
- Provide real help to the public. EEOC is pushing staff to swiftly close cases by dismissing the charges and informing claimants that they can file lawsuits instead. When workers courageously come to EEOC, Dhillon should ensure that their concerns are addressed – not send them away to find help on their own.
- Reverse harmful changes to EEOC’s popular private-sector mediation program. Mediation allows parties to resolve disputes more quickly, but EEOC is making fewer cases eligible for mediation. Dhillon should make access to this win-win program a priority.
- Protect federal employee EEO rights. For the first time, EEOC is pressuring administrative judges to close cases quickly to meet quotas. Dhillon should preserve judicial independence and fair hearings by ending closure quotas.
- Improve digital charge and appointment system. Dhillonshould add staff to make more appointments available, cut down on months-long wait times, and maintain access for walk-in appointments. Also, Dhillon should update these digital systems, which were built on a decades-old platform that is not user friendly or efficient.
- Reduce costly turnover. Dhillon should improve worker morale and efficiency by addressing poor Federal Employee Viewpoint Scores on issues including fear of reprisal, lack of resources, and work-life balance; expanding access to flexible work hours; and adding an ombudsman who would report employee concerns to Dhillon.
- Become a model employer. Dhillon must make EEOC practice what it preaches: address harassment and retaliation, provide timely accommodations and FMLA leave, comply with federal workplace rules, and not implement a new policy that allows for disparate discipline.
- Reduce management layers. Dhillon can make EEOC work smarter by flattening the agency’s top-heavy 1:5 supervisor to employee ratio.
- Equip workers to succeed. Dhillon should make sure employees have the tools to do their jobs, including working phones, copiers, scanners, and IT support.
- Reject workforce cuts. To preserve the EEOC, Dhillon must push back on the administration’s proposal to slash staff, which would hurt the public and employees.