By Bob Minor
The good news is that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act finally passed the US Senate on November 7, 2013. By a 64 to 32 vote, the upper house of Congress endorsed adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the reasons one cannot legally deny human beings employment.
Specifically, ENDA prohibits private employers with over 15 employees from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Religious organizations are exempt, as they were in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as are non-profit membership-only clubs.
It’s unlikely the House will even discuss ENDA, given that Republican Speaker John Boehner won’t bring it up, saying there’s “no basis or need” for legalizing protection of LGBT people and that it would lead to “frivolousIt’s unlikely the House will even discuss ENDA, given that Republican Speaker John Boehner won’t bring it up, saying there’s “no basis or need” for legalizing protection of LGBT people and that it would lead to “frivolous lawsuits.” lawsuits.” As usual, Republican leadership is out of touch with the majority of Americans - over 70% support ending LGBT workplace discrimination.
Actually, the greatest threat to ENDA might not be religious. The challenge will be from right-wingers such as libertarians who don’t believe the government should impose any limitations on business. Since Ronald Regan vowed to break the union movement, employees have been losing legal protections to a government that is increasingly doing the corporate bidding when it comes to how business treats its workers.
It’s funny how these libertarians seldom argue against government interference, regulations, and subsidies that promote business. They often sound like Republicans who just want to legally smoke pot and have free sex.
ENDA represents only one part of the multiple worker protections needed if there is going to be a chance to have a middle class in America. Even large investment fund managers are showing signs of worry large investment fund managers are showing signs of worry about a growing gap between America’s haves and have-nots. And as Senator Bernie Sanders illustrated it: “Today the Walton family of Walmart own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of America.”
So many of the jobs created since the crash of 2008 caused by big banks that have since benefited from it, are low paying. A 2012 report from the National Employment Law Project concluded that while a majority of jobs lost during the downturn were in the middle range of wages, a majority of those added during the recovery have been low paying.
Consider, then, the low-wage workers movement. Fast food and service industry workers represent one group of people who most threaten American business. Big business can’t outsource their jobs to another country, or even to the state next door.
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks with MSNBC's Chris Hayes about raising the minimum wage.
These businesses are stuck here. And they know it.
They need workers to serve the public. So they must deal with American workers who they’d rather keep needy, desperate and competing with each other.
Even though these companies make multi-million dollar profits and their CEOs make around $80,000 a day, their policies are to do so without passing any of their success on to their workers whose average age is 28 with 70% 20 years old or older.
And though we might eat a slightly cheaper hamburger or pizza on the backs of these workers, that’s actually deceptive. For because they pay so little, federal subsidies to these workers mean we’re adding about $4.00 an hour to each worker out of federal taxes we pay. And that figure doesn’t even count state and local government and charitable contributions keeping them alive.
A study released in October by economists at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and the University of California at Berkeley’s Labor Center reported that it costs taxpayers seven billion dollars a year for Medicaid, food stamps and other federally-funded public assistance programs for fast-food workers who are paid poverty-level wages.
McDonald’s, for example, posted $1.5 billion in third-quarter profits (that’s profits, not income) while taxpayers paid $1.2 billion in 2012 for public assistance to its workforce. That’s $300 million per quarter, a 20 percent contribution to the company’s bottom line.
Senator Elizabeth Warren's Q&A at the March 14, 2013 Senate HELP Committee hearing titled "Keeping up with a Changing Economy: Indexing the Minimum Wage."
Fast food workers and other low-paid service industry employees - much of the future of the American workforce - LGBT or not, have therefore decided to change this, beginning with rallies and plain old long-term organizing. They’re asking for a living wage of $15 an hour.
Big business and its allies are fighting back, knowing that if these workers are successful, then there’s hope for any group of employees to join together for their mutual benefit. In fact, if low-wage workers are given such an increase, business knows that everyone’s pay will have to increase.
It might even come to compare to Australia’s minimum wage of $16.88 an hour. And this hasn’t stifled Australia’s economic growth at all – they’ve had no recession in 20 years.
Australia Has $16 Minimum Wage and is the Only Rich Country to Dodge the Global Recession
The old arguments that raising the minimum wage will hurt employment, etc, are failing. Rigorous research now shows little evidence of job reductions from a higher minimum wage. In a 2013 survey by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, leading economists agreed by a nearly 4 to 1 margin that the benefits of raising and indexing the minimum wage outweigh its costs.
Business and government won’t easily change. They represent the owning class. We have the best Congress money can buy - 47% of them are already millionaires, and others will retire millionaires through congressional connections.
So ENDA would be just a beginning. LGBT people need not only to be protected on their jobs; they need to have good jobs with descent benefits.
In any movement, the majority of its members are working class. The images of LGBT people, though, are more often not.
The marriage equality movement has taken first place for a while. Its benefits redound to all classes of LGBT people but especially those who are privileged to never worry about job discrimination.
ENDA takes us deeper into the community. But our solidarity with the larger work force and the winning of good jobs, well-paying jobs, jobs that pay living wages, is what will make not being fired for ones sexual orientation or gender identity really worthwhile.
Jeff Merkley speaks before the final Senate vote on ENDA, which would protect GLBT Americans from workplace discrimination.
Just think of that.
Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human: and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org.
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