Activist Groups, Union Denounce EEOC Overhaul

By Staff Report

Aug. 2, 2006

Organizations representing women and minorities contend that the federal agency responsible for fighting discrimination in the workplace is being gutted by the Bush administration.

The government counters that its redesign of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is adding more people to the battlefield.

The opposing views are coming into stark relief as the federal budget wends its way through Congress. The American Federation of Government Employees and 10 other groups are protesting a proposal to cut $4 million from the EEOC budget.

Coming on top of reductions in the organization’s workforce since 2001, the union says the latest round of cuts demonstrates the administration’s intention to starve the EEOC to death.

Activists say the agency lacks staff and resources as the caseload piles up.

“This plan would send a loud and clear message to employers—go ahead, do whatever you want,” says Edward Coyle, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans. “Rather than the EEOC playing the role of policeman, it would instead be acting like the lookout man at a bank robbery.”

A Latino group says it is underserved by the EEOC. “We are no longer confident that our members or their cases are getting the attention they deserve,” says Cesar Moreno Perez, executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.

The agency asserts that the reorganization plan it implemented in January is designed to better help people who walk through its door with complaints.

“We are increasing the number of frontline staff doing investigations, mediations and litigation, delivering a more streamlined and efficient structure with greater customer service and more public accessibility,” says Charles Robbins, EEOC director of communications. The EEOC is moving 100 positions from its headquarters in Washington, D.C., to field offices.

The number of cases on the EEOC agenda draws different interpretations. The government union calls it a “backlog” and says that the number will grow to 48,000 in fiscal year 2007.

Robbins says that the EEOC’s “pending inventory of cases remains at a manageable level, below projections.” It totaled 39,000 at the end of March.

A couple months ago, the EEOC announced an effort to target systemic discrimination, taking on class-action cases that affect entire companies, industries and economic sectors. The commission hopes to widen and deepen its impact through investigations and litigation involving thousands of workers.

But interest groups charge that EEOC budget cuts undermine the nascent systemic effort, which requires more investigators, lawyers, economists, statisticians and other experts.

“To the extent we don’t have resources, we won’t be in a position to take on these broad, sweeping cases of a systemic nature,” says Gabrielle Martin, president of the National Council of EEOC Locals.

One leader of a major women’s group questions the EEOC’s commitment to pursuing class actions, asserting that the agency tries to make its numbers look better by taking on many individual complaints.

“The reality is that they’re filing fewer pattern-and-practice cases,” says Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women.

Mark Schoeff Jr.

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