National Council of EEOC Locals, No. 216, AFGE,
9to5, National Association of Working Women
JOINT PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDATE RELEASE Contact:
August ___, 2004 Gabrielle Martin, NC-216, President, (303) 866-1337
Rachel Shonfield, Legislative Coordinator, (305) 530-6003
Sangita Nyak, PR Coordinator 9to5, National Association of Working Women, (414) 274-0926
CONCERNED CIVIL RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS SPEAK OUT AGAINST EEOC CHANGES WHICH WILL DIMINISH ACCESS TO DISCRIMINATION VICTIMS
DENVER -Eighteen civil rights and employee advocate organizations joined in a July 20, 2004, letter urging Congress to prevent the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from creating a privatized call center and reducing field offices. EEOC Chair Cari Dominguez, is pushing for $5 million dollars to pay for what it calls “workforce repositioning.” The National Council of EEOC Locals, No. 216/AFGE-AFL-CIO, spearheaded the effort to unite groups who share a concern about the EEOC’s plans, which would make it harder for the public to find a local office or be able to talk directly to EEOC personnel, when they believe they have been discriminated against in their jobs. Gabrielle Martin, President of the National Council of EEOC Locals, No. 216, states, “I am very pleased with the response we had from our friends in the civil rights community. Congress needs to know that the changes the EEOC is planning to their operations are not just bad for the agency’s employees, they are bad for all employees.”
The groups signing onto the letter stated, “even though discrimination persists today, the EEOC’s Chair Cari Dominguez is asking Congress for funding to be used to diminish the agency’s quality of service and physical presence throughout the country.” Linda Meric, spokesperson for 9to5, National Association of Working Women, one of the letter's sponsors, commented, "9to5 has worked for years to make the EEOC more user-friendly. The Administration's proposed changes will put more strain on existing agency staff and decrease the quality of services provided to workers who have been discriminated against on the job."
In Wisconsin, Robbie Bickerstaff knows how important it was to use a field office. “If it wasn’t for the fact that I could walk in and discuss my complaint with a knowledgeable staff employee step by step, I probably wouldn’t have filed it, said Robbie Bickerstaff, “on the telephone it would be hard to explain and know whether all my paperwork was being handled with the same level of care.” “The reputation of EEOC in the community also makes a difference. The ability to have a well-trained EEOC staff employee make a personal visit to my employer’s office in response to my inquiry, made all the difference for me,” says Bickerstaff. A recent workgroup report on EEOC restructuring concluded the same, Our collective experience demonstrates that presence in a community makes a difference in the Commission’s ability to effectively enforce [anti-discrimination] laws,” the group said.
In the letter, the organizations expressed alarm at an EEOC plan to reduce its 51 field offices in favor of 10 or 11 “mega” offices. “Community-based offices can better serve the public, because they are more accessible and are more knowledgeable regarding local issues of concern,” the letter states.
The letter is also critical of EEOC’s proposed call center, which it predicts will be, “bad for your constituents, both employers and employees.” The EEOC wants to contract with private operators, who will use scripts, like telemarketers, to respond to questions from the public on Federal anti-discrimination laws. According to EEOC’s solicitation for bids for a call center contractor, call center operators will receive six to seven days training in the laws the agency enforces. Martin, predicts an adverse impact on customer service, when poorly trained operators attempt to answer questions presently handled by senior Federal investigators.
"I and others visited the EEOC office in Denver, Colorado when filing our gender discrimination charges. After our Employer went after us, we visited the EEOC office to meet with a Federal Investigator. Sitting across the table, the EEOC employee could see our tears, and feel our pain, fear and frustration. Although we were represented by an attorney, that personal EEOC human-connection with a knowledgeable and well trained Federal Investigator made a difference. From the perspective of someone who needed protection of EEOC laws, the EEOC needs to be strengthened not weakened." - Becky Benedict, 9to5 Colorado member.
Earlier this month, twenty-nine United States Senators led by Ted Kennedy joined in a letter calling on the EEOC’s appropriations subcommittee not to fund these plans. The letter’s co-sponsors, including Senator Barbara Mikulski, questioned EEOC’s priorities, “In view of the EEOC’s other budget needs- such as hiring additional investigators, attorneys, mediators, and hearing offices 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.” Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a former EEOC trial attorney, sponsored a similar letter in the House of Representatives, which garnered 102 sponsors.
The House has already voted on EEOC’s appropriations. The bill language includes $1,021,000 for EEOC’s requested call center, subject to the submission of a spending plan. The House report also prohibits the EEOC from restructuring, unless it notifies its oversight Committee. The Senate recessed before reaching EEOC’s appropriations bill. Martin is pleased that the House made a point of reminding the EEOC of its obligation to submit to Congressional oversight, but does not believe this goes far enough. “The House bill could let the EEOC use funds to pay for expensive telemarketers at a time when staffing is at an all-time low. Rather than focus on hiring career employees who are serious about the EEOC’s mission, EEOC would rather hire telemarketers and temporary employees. We hope the Senate decides instead to invest in our own employees, who can answer questions based on experience, not on scripts.” The EEOC National Council plans to work with the letter’s sponsors and other interested groups to keep getting the word out, until Congress agrees on a final bill.