West Edition

Black Workers Center rallies against job discrimination

LOS ANGELES — About 100 advocates representing worker rights organizations joined together for a Local Enforcement Now rally April 24 to voice their support for localizing enforcement of civil rights protections in the workplace.

The rally, held at downtown L.A.’s Biddy Mason Park — a walking tour park named after a former slave and pioneering philanthropist — was followed by a march to City Hall. The march was a demonstration of support for local authorities to enforce workplace discrimination laws.

The rally also was held to celebrate Gov. Jerry Brown’s support of prioritizing civil rights enforcement on the local level. Currently, the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing is the state agency responsible for enforcing laws against workplace discrimination – with race and disability representing 70 percent of claims, followed by claims of sexual harassment.

To help protect workers on a local level, a civil rights advocacy campaign, led by the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, was launched last year to help provide protection to workers in the very cities where their discrimination happened. In response to their call, the governor last October directed the formation of an advisory group — composed of key state representatives, community advocates and employers — to study the feasibility of local governments enforcing California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act laws in their boundaries.

The advisory group will provide a report with findings and recommendations to the governor and Legislature by the end of this year. If approved, it will become the first important step toward combatting employment discrimination at the local level.

“Sadly, black workers are two-and-a-half times more likely to file an employment discrimination complaint with the state but have half a chance of seeing any remedy. We can do better,” said Lola Smallwood Cuevas, executive director of the Los Angeles Black Workers Center, who helped lead the rally. “In 2017, our members pressed for a change in the law to put more enforcement boots on the ground in our cities and create an administrative process that brings the weight of city influence with local employers to bear.”

Also speaking at the rally was Department of Fair Employment and Housing Director Kevin Kish, who recently convened the advisory group directed by the governor.

“In California, we have the strongest anti-discrimination laws in the country. But we know that the laws in the books are not always the laws at the work site,” Kish. “So we’re proud to stand with Black Workers United, SEIU and others on the advisory committee to study local enforcement. And we’re excited to step up enforcement of our laws at the local and state level to protect all workers from discrimination.”

Other rally speakers included Rusty Hicks, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor president; and Myla Rahman, district director for state Sen. Steven Bradford.

Black Workers United is a statewide coalition of unions, community and civil rights organizations dedicated to ensuring a better tomorrow for California by building a fair and equitable society for black workers, women and other underrepresented populations in our economy.

The mission of the Los Angeles Black Workers Center is to change public policies and corporate practices in Los Angeles to advance economic justice for black workers, their families and the communities who rely on them.

The Black Workers Center’s long-term goals are to create access to quality jobs, dismantle the barriers of employment discrimination, and transform low-paying, low-skilled jobs into fulfilling and sustaining careers and vocations through unionization and leadership development.