WASHINGTON, D.C.—Marc Perrone, International President of the 1.3 million member United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), called for a full repeal of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in response to Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s press conference where he offered to fix the law without providing specifics.
“This law is not about freedom, it purposely legislates discrimination and division. It is anti-American, anti-family, and anti-worker. It is a law that cruelly targets men and women, and their families, simply because of who they are. It is fundamentally wrong, it does not belong in Indiana or any state in America, and it must be repealed.
To be clear, as we decide where to take our future business—from annual conferences to the UFCW 2018 International Convention—we will not consider Indiana unless it fully repeals this discriminatory law. We urge every union, every American, and every business and employer, large and small, to join with the millions of Americans who have already spoken out against this needless and terrible law.
For the better America we all believe in, this law must be scrapped.”
The following is a joint statement from United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 700 and UFCW OUTreach:
“As members of a union family who fight for dignity, respect, and equality each and every day, we are appalled by passage of Indiana Senate Bill 101. Under the guise of religious freedom, this legislation would offer bad actors in the state of Indiana a license to discriminate against LGBT families. It would undermine local nondiscrimination laws. And it would give Indiana the dubious distinction of adopting the most extreme version of these bills yet. UFCW Local 700 and UFCW OUTreach strongly oppose Senate Bill 101 and urge Governor Pence to veto it.”
Click here to read a letter from UFCW OUTreach International Chair Michele Kessler to HRC President Chad Griffin calling for the suspension of Walmart’s score on the Corporate Equality Index.
Click here to read a Washington Post story which describes UFCW OUTreach’s ongoing effort to hold Walmart accountable.
Click here for a 2009 clip of OUTreach Senior Advisor Stuart Appelbaum addressing the National Equality March.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — OUTreach, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender constituency group of the 1.3 million member United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), is calling on Arkansas-based Walmart to speak out against Senate Bill 202 (SB 202)—anti-LGBT legislation which is set to become law in the coming days unless it is vetoed by Governor Asa Hutchinson.
“We call on Walmart to swiftly and forcefully urge Governor Hutchinson to veto SB 202,” said Michele Kessler, International Chair of UFCW OUTreach. “As the world’s largest retailer, Walmart has a responsibility to speak out against this hateful and bigoted legislation. In addition, Walmart has a moral obligation to use its influence in Arkansas to prevent discrimination from being enshrined into law. If Walmart will not stand up for the rights of LGBT people in the state it calls home, how can it ever be considered a supporter of equality? Our community is watching and waiting.”
To this point, Walmart and other businesses in the state have remained silent.
Walmart received a score of 90 on the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) most recent Corporate Equality Index (CEI). Many in the LGBT community look to the CEI as a barometer of the commitment specific companies have to equality in not just polices, but practices. UFCW OUTreach has been raising questions about the validity of Walmart’s score.
UFCW OUTreach agrees with LGBT workplace advocacy group Freedom to Work that Walmart must be held to account. “Walmart has recently been given high praise and high scores from the LGBT advocates who publicly rate corporate responsibility,” said Tico Almeida, founder of Freedom to Work. “As the largest private employer in Arkansas, Walmart should publicly call for a veto of this bigoted legislation and lobby the Governor to stand on the right side of history. If Walmart remains silent, I hope the corporate giant will be downgraded in the eyes of LGBT consumers and LGBT organizations alike.”
Will Walmart speak out for equality or continue to side with those who want to deny LGBT citizens their rights?
UFCW OUTreach is a constituency group dedicated to building mutual support between our union’s International, regions, and locals and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community and their allies in order to come together to organize for social and economic justice for all, regardless of age, race, gender, creed, color, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Together, we will ensure full equality for LGBT workers on their jobs and in their unions.
UFCW’s LGBT constituency group OUTreach held its executive board meeting over the last two days. During the meetings, executive board members heard from numerous leaders in the LGBT community. Speakers included Mara Keisling, Executive Director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, Jerame Davis, Executive Director of Pride at Work, Daniel Pino from the National Gay & Lesbian Taskforce, and Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema.
Following the numerous presentations, OUTreach’s executive board mapped out goals and actions for 2015. Some of them include attending the Creating Change conference, focusing on the relationships between the labor and LGBT communities, fighting for LGBT rights in the workplace, and learning more about transgender issues.
Woven throughout the history of the LGBT civil rights movement, the support of organized labor has been the thread that ties it all together. For nearly a century, LGBT activists and the labor movement have built a worldwide relationship based on shared struggles, similar goals, and common values. The premiere of the British movie Pride — about London LGBT activists who came to the rescue for Welsh mine workers’ families during a long strike — provides a great time to remind our community that this is but one story in an ongoing history between labor and LGBT people.
When it comes to fighting for the right to have a decent-paying job free from discrimination and undue hardship, American LGBT workers has no longer-term ally than organized labor. But today, in a time of unprecedented support for LGBT relationships and civil rights, labor is under constant assault while the LGBT community remains largely silent as our oldest friend’s rights are systematically eroded.
Our common struggle with the labor movement goes back to at least the 1930s, when the National Union of Marine Cooks and Stewards elected Stephen Blair, an openly gay man, as its vice president. The union was derided as, “red, black, and queer” for its strong liberal views and embrace of minority rights. Blair’s life partner, Frank McCormick, was a vice president of the California Congress of Industrial Organizations and was instrumental during the West Coast longshoremen’s strike in 1934, which led to to the unionization of every port on the west coast.
Continuing into the ’40s, Harry Hay, a longshoreman from the Bay Area in California, founded the Mattachine Society in 1948. Hay used the knowledge and skills he gained as a union organizer to put the group on the map and drive its success. Incidentally, in the 1970s, Hay founded the Radical Faeries movement, which still exists today.
In the mid-1970s, Harvey Milk and the Teamsters banded together for the Coors beer boycotts and Harvey’s successful bid for San Francisco supervisor. At that point, labor and LGBT activists had already shared 40 years of history, but Harvey and the Teamsters took our shared struggle to the next level by creating a political movement that showed how our power multiplies if we band together and organize.
The Labor + LGBT powerhouse repeated this success when they worked together in 1978 to defeat the Briggs Initiative, which sought to bar gay people from teaching in California public schools. Shortly after, in 1979, the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest federation of labor unions, made its first call for a federal law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.
For almost 40 years, union contracts have included discrimination protections for LGBT workers and today, because there is no federal nondiscrimination law on the books, a union contract is still the only legally enforceable protection available to LGBT people in most states. Labor remains one of the strongest voices pushing for a federal law to ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Workers in unions make, on average, 30 percent more than non-union workers and are 59 percent more likely to have employer-provided health care. The gender pay gap is significantly lower for women who are members of unions. LGBT workers also enjoy better pay and benefits in union workplaces in addition to the added discrimination protections inherent in every union contract. In a time when the average pay of a CEO has gone from 48 times that of the average worker in 1980 to 331 times that of the average worker today, these differences matter greatly.
With all of that shared history and collaboration, one might think that the relationship between LGBT people and labor would be unbreakable. Sadly, many in LGBT people don’t realize that labor is our most enduring and hardworking ally, let alone that labor is in a fight for its very existence.
The cause of labor is the cause of every LGBT person. Our shared struggle is one of the most critical movements in America today. The right to work, get paid a living wage, and share in the fruits of your labor is being eroded week by week. Collective bargaining is the only tool in our tool belt that allows us to push back against this tide of income inequality and demand our fair share of the economic pie.
From union-busting corporations to state legislative efforts to dismantle workers’ rights, America’s unions have never faced attacks from so many angles at once. Far too often, the LGBT community turns a blind eye to these struggles. In Wisconsin, during the attempts to break up the state employees’ union, the LGBT presence was minimal and few national LGBT organizations spoke out. In the current fight to break up teachers unions, the silence is deafening. Labor unions were right there beside us heralding the triumph of the Windsor decision that overturned part of the Defense of Marriage Act and has long called for the law to be repealed, but when the Harris v. Quinn decision delivered another blow to unions, only one LGBT organization bothered to issue a statement.
During the summer of 1984, LGBT activists in the United Kingdom came together to make sure the families of striking workers didn’t go hungry and could pay their bills while they fought for better working conditions. Thirty years later, American LGBT activists ignore the struggles of working men and women — including LGBT workers who are benefitting from their union membership. We demand passage of employment protections for our community but ignore the larger picture that would benefit all American workers.
Time and again, state by state, as lawmakers and corporations have colluded to erode labor rights, the LGBT community has turned its head and looked the other way. If we cannot stand in solidarity with one of our oldest supporters, what is the message we are sending to the myriad allies we’re creating today?
Are we simply opportunistic friends whose relationship depends on what the other side has to offer and nothing more? Solidarity isn’t transactional, it’s transformational. “An injury to one is an injury to all” is more than just a slogan for the labor movement; it’s a rallying cry for the core principle that underlies everything for which unions stand.
We should adopt it as our own.
JERAME DAVIS is the interim executive director of Pride at Work, an LGBT constituency group of organized labor.
Last month, the Michigan AFL-CIO co-sponsored the 25th anniversary Michigan Pride rally at the state capitol, standing up for the rights of our state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. It was a great celebration, with a lot of good discussion about the need to amend Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
Under current law, no one can be fired, denied housing or any public accommodation because of race, gender, religion or ethnicity, among other characteristics. But it’s legal, in most Michigan jurisdictions, to fire a person or evict someone simply because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.
It’s beyond obvious that a person’s private life has nothing to do with their ability to be a productive employee, a good tenant or to enjoy any other civil right. So it’s good news that the Legislature is considering proposals to add protections for LGBT citizens to Michigan law.
Similar legislation has been introduced before. This time, however, a significant sector of Michigan’s business community is backing the idea. Under the banner of the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition, many of Michigan’s top corporate leaders are saying that discrimination in any form is bad for business.
I don’t always agree with corporate executives. But in this case, I couldn’t agree more. Discrimination is not only unfair and un-American, it’s anti-competitive. It costs companies real money when they reject the talents of a potential worker just because he or she is gay, a person of color, or from a different country.
In fact, it’s working people and our unions who make our economy more competitive and more consistent with American values by fighting against discrimination in all its ugly forms. In 1975, members of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) at the University of Michigan negotiated a contract clause preventing discrimination against gay and lesbian employees.
Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers have added similar language to their contracts in Michigan, as did the United Auto Workers during 1999 negotiations with Chrysler, Ford and General Motors. And members of the Michigan Education Association now have inclusive non-discrimination clauses in more than 100 contracts across the state of Michigan.
Union members have a long record of moving faster and more effectively than business and political leaders on these issues. Civil rights for women and people of color didn’t become the law of the land until the 1960s. But non-discrimination clauses — with real enforcement — were a standard feature of union contracts for many years beforehand.
Equality under the law is essential. But it’s also worth remembering that in the workplace — where most of us spend a good chunk of our waking hours — there’s no better tool for fighting discrimination than a good union contract, a strong grievance procedure, and active members who support one another.
As a union member, I’m proud our labor movement is standing up for justice for LGBT citizens. As a Michigander, I’ll be proud when our entire state does the same. And I’m happy to work with labor, business, Republicans and Democrats to make it happen.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Karla Swift and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.
Karla Swift is president of the Michigan AFL-CIO.