Agencies collaborate against discrimination

Tuesday - 2/8/2011, 7:33am EST

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By Meg Beasley
Reporter
Federal News Radio

The departments of Labor and Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are joining to combat discrimination in the workplace.

Patricia Shiu, director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) at Labor announced today that she will meet with EEOC chairwoman Jackie Barrien and assistant attorney general for civil rights Tom Perez, to figure how to collaborate on protecting employees' rights.

"Just as intelligence agencies must share information to protect our national security, so too must our civil rights agencies work together to safeguard the rights of all workers," said Shiu, during her keynote speech Monday at the Women's and Fair Practices Departments' 2011 Civil Rights Luncheon, hosted by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).

The lunch is part of AFGE's annual legislative conference. Members from across the country are in Washington to defend their benefits and fight back against what they say is a negative stereotype of federal workers.

OFCCP ensures that all agencies and government contractors uphold the standards of affirmative action and equal employment. The office conducts random audits throughout the year to monitor agencies. It also accepts individual cases brought by employees who feel they have been discriminated against.

"By sharing best practices, conducting joint trainings, piloting programs in our field offices, referring cases to one another and sharing information we can better enforce the laws around employment discrimination," Shiu said.

Shiu said the interagency collaboration effort extends to chief acquisition officers and senior procurement executives across the government.

"We are calling upon our colleagues who award and supervise the contracts to remind our vendors on the front end of their obligations to comply with the law," she said.

Shiu also said enforcement agencies need help from employees.

"If you will be our eyes and ears," Shiu said, "we will be able to proactively root out discrimination wherever it happens."

Shiu said OFCCP recently settled an important case against a company that is the primary supplier of meat to the federal school lunch program and several military installations. An audit revealed that several years ago the distributor chose not to hire almost 1,000 women because of their gender. Each woman will be offered the wages and benefits she would have earned as well as be prioritized for future positions with the company.

Shiu said the gender pay gap remains an OFCCP priority. She said that closing the pay gap would reduce by half the number of children in poverty so many women are the primary breadwinners today.

Along with civil rights, AFGE detailed other priorities during their legislative conference kickoff before more than 1,000 members

AFGE president John Gage said the union fears feds will be hit hard with cuts to pay, reductions in health care and retirement benefits, and union representation.

AGFE also is using the conference to begin a mobilization effort to put a face on the federal workforce. In an interview after the luncheon, Gage said federal employees didn't cause the government's problems and should not be used as a scapegoat.

He said recent verbal attacks on feds are the worst he has seen in his 20-year career advocating for federal workers.

"We're planning today, tomorrow we're marching, then we're going to head back to our towns and cities across America and really show people what government is," said Gage. "It's VA nurses, it's Social Security people in their hometowns. These people aren't overpaid, they're not faceless bureaucrats. They are real people doing a real job. They are the infrastructure of America. We have to change public opinion."

Gage said he is worried that lawmakers are cutting away at the public services that are the foundation of the country. He said that agencies are already dealing with reduced budgets - if Congress asks them to do even more with even less, they'll underperform and the public will lose faith in them.

He said AGFE will partner with AFL-CIO and similar organizations in the ongoing effort to correct the misperception that feds should pay for the government's failures. He said verbal attacks aren't just at the federal level - public school teachers and fire fighters across the country are feeling the pubic wrath.

"All across the country - we already have teams in 18 states," Said Gage. "We're banding together with a number of unions for events as well as talking to natural allies and constituents to try to get people to see what they are doing, where this is going, and what kind of country we'll have. Some of our opponents, it seems like they want to take it not to less government, but to no government."

AFGE members will march in front of Russell Senate office building Tuesday to raise awareness about their legislative fears and to put a face on the federal workforce.

AFGE is also vying to represent TSA workers. TSA administrator John Pistole granted transportation security officers bargaining rights on Feb. 7.

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