WASHINGTON -- In its second public forum outside the nation's capital this year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) held its monthly meeting in Houston on Tuesday, June 22, to hear testimony from expert witnesses on discrimination as it affects low-wage workers -- particularly immigrants, minorities, and women.
The day-long meeting, held at Texas Southern University's Thurgood Marshall School of Law, attracted an outpouring of approximately 300 people, including community and business leaders, civil rights advocates and educators, state and local government officials, over a dozen print and electronic media outlets, as well as the public at large. The historic gathering marked another step in EEOC's on-going effort to reach out to agency stakeholders, especially under-served communities, and expand its presence at the grassroots level.
"We left the Washington Beltway to listen carefully to experts and advocates at the local level who have first-hand knowledge about the problems facing low-wage workers," said EEOC Chairwoman Ida L. Castro. "The information we gathered will provide us with a solid foundation to develop our work plan so that together we can focus on these important issues."
During the meeting, three expert panels, including one affected individual, shared their experiences and insights on how best to break down the barriers to equal employment opportunity for low-wage earners. The Commission heard testimony from representatives of the following organizations: AFL-CIO; Asian Law Caucus; NAACP; Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Houston Immigration and Refugee Coalition; Texas Rural Legal Aid; Refugee Services Alliance; Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor; and the Institute for Rehabilitation and Research. Also participating in the panel discussions were esteemed faculty members from the University of Texas.
Panelists discussed a number of issues affecting low-wage earners including wage bias, worker exploitation, industry trends, demographic and population changes, challenges faced by immigrants and undocumented employees, the role of organized labor, welfare-to-work programs, temp services and contingent workers, low job classification, and limited job opportunities for older workers and persons with disabilities.
In addition to the expert witnesses, the Commission heard testimony from Francisco Javier Guevera, a Mexican construction worker from Houston, who provided personal insights about his employment as a low-wage immigrant worker. The meeting "opened a whole new world" he said, because he previously had no knowledge about the laws enforced by EEOC, nor did he understand how to utilize the agency's complaint process.
"Due to a lack of education, cultural differences, and language barriers, too many low-wage workers are unaware of their rights, unfamiliar with EEOC's charge processing procedures, and unable to get a fair shot at the American dream," said Ms. Castro.
Among the recommendations made by the panelists were to increase enforcement attention to the agricultural, poultry, meat packing, construction, and restaurant industries; survey employees under the H-2A temporary farm worker program to ensure that employers are complying with the EEO laws; and monitor public works construction projects to safeguard against workplace bias.
"Too many employers continue to abuse and take advantage of low-wage earners because they are vulnerable to threats of retaliation and fear deportation," Ms. Castro said. "EEOC will enhance collaboration with stakeholders and provide more strategic enforcement to root out the bad actors and remedy egregious discrimination wherever and whenever it exists."
Under Chairwoman Castro's leadership, the Commission has made several major enforcement reforms which have increased the efficiency and effectiveness of agency operations. These include implementing a Comprehensive Enforcement Program to further collaboration between attorneys and investigators processing charges of discrimination; expanding EEOC's voluntary mediation program nationwide; reducing the backlog of pending charges and lowering the average charge processing time; enhancing outreach, education, and technical assistance to stakeholders with a special emphasis on small and mid-sized employers as well as under-served communities; and revamping the agency web site to make information more accessible in a user-friendly format.
EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Equal Pay Act, sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, and the Rehabilitation Act's prohibitions against disability discrimination in the federal government. Further information about the Commission is available on the agency's web site (www.eeoc.gov).
This page was last modified on June 24, 1999.
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