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AT&T Models How to Guarantee Trans Employees Protection

AT&T Models How to Guarantee Trans Employees Protection

AT&T Models How to Guarantee Trans Employees Protection

Pride at Work argues that a union contract helps ensure transgender employees get the protection they need.

When news broke last week that AT&T Mobility had reached a tentative agreement for a contract with the Communications Workers of America, I was thrilled. The fact that 21,000 working people in 36 states and D.C. would be covered by the strength and stability of a new, updated contract is always great, especially when it comes with a 10.1 percent raise and other job guarantees. But this agreement also adds protections for LGBTQ working people that had not existed in the previous contract.

Unions have been protecting gay and lesbian working people for decades, but it's a more recent trend to extend these protections on the basis of gender identity and expression -- a sorely needed expansion. According to the U.S. Transgender Survey, one in three transgender people who worked in the previous year had faced some sort of discrimination or harassment at work on the basis of their gender identity or expression.

At Pride at Work, we've been fighting for fully LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination provisions to be negotiated in every union contract for decades and we're proud of our success. Many unions now make such language standard, and CWA, in particular, has been a leader among unions in standing up for LGBTQ people in the workplace.

In 2013, CWA endorsed public and private trans-inclusive health insurance coverage. In 2015, CWA broadly endorsed a resolution to support comprehensive civil rights legislation to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing, credit, education, government-funded activities, and public accommodations and resolved "to be active in the struggle for equality inside and outside the workplace until all barriers to full participation in society are removed."

Pride at Work member and AT&T Mobility worker Hector Capote -- whose wife is transgender -- was a driving force behind the new contract language. He sums up the need for unions to get behind these protections succinctly: "The truth is, if the contract we won didn't provide clear protections for some of the most vulnerable among us, would it really represent a victory at all?"

The new CWA tentative agreement covers AT&T workers in 36 states, 14 of which have no state law protecting transgender people in the workplace. I often remind folks that the best, most durable protection an LGBTQ working person can achieve is a union contract, but in states like Mississippi and North Carolina, this contract is the only protection those AT&T workers can count upon.

What's more, a union contract provides a clear process and offers representation to any person who faces discrimination at work under the terms of the agreement. In other words, these contracts go above and beyond any state law that exists to provide workers with a clear path to mitigate the effects of bias on the job. And until we have a federal law, such as the Equality Act, the confusing combination of existing state laws, corporate policy, and union contracts are all that stand between LGBTQ working people and discrimination.

Every working person should have these protections. AT&T and many other corporations have similar nondiscrimination language in their corporate personnel policies, but no corporate policy is worth the paper it's written on if there's not a contract to back it up. Corporations need to adopt nondiscrimination policies that are LGBTQ-inclusive across the board and the unions that represent over 12 million working people in this country need to include similar protections in their contracts to ensure those policies are enforced.

The corporations that add these policies cite the need to attract the best talent to their workforce as the main reason they adopt these policies. A significant majority of young Americans support LGBTQ equality, with over 90 percent of those aged 18 to 30 favoring workplace equality for LGBTQ working people. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 91 percent of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation nondiscrimination in their nondiscrimination policies while 83 percent include gender identity.

But we also know that Walmart, for example, has gender identity and sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policy but also has two ongoing Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigations for discrimination against transgender employees. If pro-LGBTQ policies want to be more than a marketing tool, they need to be backed up by a contract that enforces them. Only working people coming together in a union to negotiate an inclusive contract can do that. Unions are learning quickly that to organize new members -- especially younger workers -- they need to proactively address the needs of LGBTQ working people.

JERAME DAVIS is the executive director of the organization Pride at Work. Follow him on Twitter@jerame.

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Jerame Davis