Thursday, February 9, 2012

Possible Executive Order has Power to Protect Millions of Federal Workers

This week the William’s Institute at the UCLA School of Law released a study called The Impact of Extending Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity non-Discrimination Requirements to Federal Contractors. The study describes the major advantages a presidential executive order would have on LGBT workers’ rights in America.

Currently, federal contractors employ roughly 26 million Americans, which represent 22 percent of the entire workforce. Moreover, even though the majority of the largest federal contractors already have similar non-discrimination requirement in place, the Williams Institute Study found that this executive order would extend protections to 16.5 million employees who currently do not have them. At a time when the unemployment rate hovers around 8.3% and we are still waiting for the economy to fully recover such protections for a group of Americans who have disproportionately experienced employment discrimination are literally life-saving.

The U.S. Congress holds the ultimate power in permanently ending LGBT employment discrimination by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 1397/S. 811). However, similar to the passage of workplace non-discrimination laws in 16 states and over 150 municipalities, this executive order would represent an historic interim step. The executive order is an option President Obama can, and should, exercise to extend these urgently needed protections for LGBT employees.

A federal mandate would “extend [health] coverage to an additional 14-15 million workers.” M.V. Lee Badgett—the study’s author—refutes the fear of heavy costs if same-sex partners are added to employee’s health insurance plans: “Given the small number of employees who would take advantage of domestic partnership benefits across the tens of thousands of federal contractors, the ultimate burden on business for providing these benefits would be minimal.”

The current executive order on federal contractor non-discrimination mandates that any federal contractor doing more than $10,000 in work per year is protected against discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Our friends at the Center for American Progress and the Williams Institute co-authored a 12-page memo which includes the results of this new study. The memo was given to Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), the lead sponsor for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 1397/S.811), and sources have confirmed that he has read the document. We urge the President to issue this executive order without delay to ensure that federal contractors receiving federal funds do not discriminate against LGBT employees.