AFGE Backs Senate Measure
To Block EEOC Effort to Alter Agency

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Twenty-nine members of the U.S. Senate July 2 called on an Appropriations subcommittee to reject a request from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to use part of its fiscal 2005 appropriation to establish a privatized national call center and reduce field offices.

The members, led by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), said in a letter to the Senate Commerce, Justice, State, and the Judiciary Appropriations Subcommittee that the EEOC has failed to justify the need for the call center or for reducing the number of field offices from 51 to 10 or 11 “mega” offices.

Among the 29 signers —28 Democrats and Sen. James Jeffords (I-Vt.)—also was Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), a longstanding opponent of privatization and a leading member of the Appropriations subcommittee.

The American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, which represents 600,000 government employees in the United States and overseas, including at the EEOC, is supporting these Senate members in their effort to halt steps to drastically alter the agency.

Andrea Brooks, AFGE’s National Vice President for Women and Fair Practices, said: “The agency is moving forward with a plan to strip federal employees of their jobs by closing or consolidating district offices. If allowed to proceed, they would dismantle the agency and separate it from its current mission of preventing discrimination in the workplace. I applaud the members of the Senate for seeing this for what it is.” 

The senators’ action followed a similar effort in June in the House of Representatives. More than 100 members of the House called on its Commerce, Justice, State, and Judiciary Appropriations Subcommittee to also reject the EEOC’s request to use $5 million to set up the privatized centers and restructure the agency.

In a statement, Sen. Kennedy said, “Employees concerned about job discrimination have long had the right to contact EEOC and speak with a trained staff member in their local community, not a faceless call center person with limited knowledge of the law and no familiarity with local businesses and local problems.

“The Bush Administration is wrong to try to privatize its local call operations and transfer them to a call center with no ties to communities.”

The EEOC said in its budget request that creating a single national call center will guarantee “promptness, accuracy, and courtesy” in call processing. The senators, however, said they are skeptical that establishing a call center is the best way to solve the agency’s problems in handling incoming calls. “Instead, we believe that the EEOC should lift its three-year-old hiring freeze, which has left the agency unable to replace over three hundred employees who have left the agency.”

The senators said also that hiring an adequate number of professional staff with knowledge of EEOC law and procedures is the “best way to guarantee promptness, accuracy, and courtesy in answering incoming calls. Additionally, support staff is needed to relieve professional staff from clerical duties, such as copying and preparing form correspondence and mailings.”

EEOC Chair Cari Dominguez Oct. 27, 2003, launched an “initial restructuring proposal” that would, among other things, establish a privatized national call center for handling questions from the public on legal rights and protections. The EEOC also would eliminate federal workers’ right to a hearing, create an electronic filing system for claims that would shut out workers, and cut funding for investigations and litigation.

In its fiscal 2004 budget request, the EEOC proposed to spend $5 million on workforce restructuring, including for a national contact center handled by consultants. Congress, however, did not provide this funding in its final appropriation for the agency.

In its fiscal 2005 budget request, the agency again requested $5 million for “workforce restructuring,” including for the privatized call center.

The senators also said in their letter that EEOC has failed to explain why a private business, rather than a federal workforce, should staff the proposed call center. “Handling sensitive calls and providing advice to the public about potential violation of our nation’s laws protecting against employment discrimination is precisely the sort of inherently governmental function unsuitable for contracting out.”

Moreover, they said, studies have shown that federal employees provide better service than private contractors in call centers. “In this instance,” the senators wrote, “the EEOC only intends contract operators to receive six to seven days training regarding the laws that the agency embraces. The quality of service to the public will certainly deteriorate when poorly trained operators replace the career EEOC professionals who presently respond to calls.”

The senators urged the subcommittee to reject any appropriation for workforce repositioning, including the call center, until EEOC has demonstrated a funding need and has shown that the call center and restructuring initiatives will not compromise its effectiveness.

“In view of the EEOC’s other budget needs—such as hiring additional investigators, attorneys, mediators, and hearing officers to carry out the essential mission of the agency—millions of dollars should not be spent on a risky call center proposal or unjustifiable restructuring,” they said.

The EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, It also enforces the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which prohibits discrimination against individuals 40 years of age or older; sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991; the Equal Pay Act; Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in the private sector and state and local governments; and the Rehabilitation Act's prohibitions against discrimination in the federal government.