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Rule Change Would Lead to LGBTQ Employment Discrimination

White House Photo by Pete Souza
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By AFSCME Staff Explore the Issues Civil Rights Workers' Rights

AFSCME strongly opposes a proposed rule change by the Trump administration that would effectively remove protections for many LGBTQ workers who are employed by federal contractors and subcontractors.

The rule change is an amendment to an executive order signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 and expanded by later presidents that prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment decisions based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or national origin. Known as EO 11246, the executive order includes a narrow exemption for religious institutions that exist to support the practice of their faith and that hire only individuals of a particular religion to carry out that work.

President Trump’s Department of Labor seeks to broaden the definition of “religion” and related terms such as “exercise of religion” to make it possible for virtually any federal contractor or subcontractor—including for-profit companies—to claim an exemption. LGBTQ workers would be disproportionately harmed. The proposed rule change comes amid a broader wave of attacks against members of the LGBTQ community and as the Supreme Court considers an upcoming case which may harm LGBTQ rights.

In a comment letter submitted to the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, AFSCME argued strongly against the changes under consideration, warning of potentially high costs.

“By expanding the kinds of entities and acts that qualify for the religious exclusion, the Proposed Rule will empower federal contractors and subcontractors to engage in employment discrimination,” wrote Steven Kreisberg, Director of the Department of Research and Collective Bargaining Services and Teague Paterson, Deputy General Counsel. “This increased discrimination will come at a high cost to affected individuals, the government and society at large as qualified individuals are excluded from contractor workforces or otherwise denied equal opportunities at work based on irrelevant characteristics that have nothing to do with their ability to do the job.”

The letter also reaffirms AFSCME’s steadfast commitment to equal opportunity, which is under attack in this case.

“AFSCME’s commitment to equal opportunity manifests in the principles we adhere to, the work we do and the results AFSCME and its members deliver every day,” the letter reads. “It is embodied in AFSCME’s constitution, in which the first clause of our Members’ Bill of Rights guarantees individuals will be accepted into membership ‘on a basis of unqualified equality,’ without regard to race, creed, color, national origin, ethnicity,  sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, immigration status, or political belief.”

AFSCME submitted its letter earlier this month. For this proposed rule change, the Department of Labor allowed only a 30-day comment period rather than the standard 60-day period.

Read the letter here.