Legislators and Organizations Aim for Fair Treatment of Black and Latino Professionals

September 1st, 2020 by Drew Vass

As civil movements press for reform across the nation, several government and private groups are banding together, calling for fair and equitable treatment in the workplace. As tension mounds over workplace safety amid COVID-19, at least one report indicates discrimination could be a factor in how companies address concerned employees. A group of U.S. Senators is calling for an investigation. Meanwhile, in Minnesota government representatives are backing a movement to increase opportunities for Black professionals—including tracking and measuring activities between individuals and companies. Among those signed on to participate is Andersen Windows and Doors.

Scheduled to launch in October, People of Color Careers is an equity hiring and career advancement program for Black professionals. Through the participation of companies signed on as charter members, program officials say the aim includes ensuring that, “professionals of color have equitable access to career and advancement opportunities.” Those opportunities, they say, stem from direct contact with hiring managers and recruiters via a hub that job seekers can utilize for browsing and applying for openings and advancement opportunities. Meanwhile, communications with hiring managers and recruiters will also be tracked, says Sharon Smith-Akinsanya, CEO of Rae Mackenzie Group and founder of People Of Color Careers, in order to inspire fair and equitable treatment.

“Companies often say they are committed to [diversity, equity and inclusion], but are slow to show any initiative,” Smith-Akinsanya says. “And we all know, what gets measured gets done. That’s why our proprietary equity hiring and career advancement platform focuses on reporting tools for employers to measure their efforts.”

By becoming charter members, corporations, “are committing to meaningful change,” says Minnesota Governor Tim Walz. “People of color must have equal opportunities to thrive. That starts with equal access to career advancement possibilities.”

Meanwhile, as Black and Latino professionals find employment, indications suggest they might face increased scrutiny when expressing concerns about workplace safety amid COVID-19, says U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ). According to Menendez, a recent report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) found that when workers raised concerns related to the pandemic, one in eight perceived retaliatory actions from employers. The same report shows that Black and Latino workers are more likely to experience repercussions than white workers and to have their concerns swept under the rug. Under guidelines of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, workers who report workplace hazard concerns are protected from retaliation from employers that could otherwise fire or punish those who speak out, Menendez and his constituents point out. Those types of retaliations are “but one of the many types of prejudices these communities continue to endure,” says Menendez and other Senators joining him in a call for investigation and corrective measures. The group’s efforts are aimed at the fair treatment of all workers, while pointing to “implicit and explicit racial biases,” which they say are disproportionately aimed at Black and Latino workers.

As early as June, the issue surfaced through a data brief released by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), finding that Black and Latino workers are more likely than white workers to report that they or someone they know have been punished or fired for raising concerns about COVID-19. The report indicates that employers are twice as likely to retaliate against Black workers as white workers, at the same time showing that employers were half as likely to address concerns expressed by Black workers.

In recent weeks, Menendez and other constituents addressed these concerns in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia and OSHA principle deputy assistant secretary Loren Sweatt. “We are troubled by recent reports that employers have taken retaliatory actions against workers, specifically workers of color, who have asked that their concerns regarding COVID-19 be addressed,” the group of Senators writes. By early August, OSHA received more than 5,000 complaints related to COVID-19, they say, adding, “yet it has only issued a handful of citations, one of which was a reporting violation.” Workers should be able to trust that OSHA will enforce whistleblower protections, the group says, adding, “Without confidence in OSHA, as the report illustrates, employers will be free to silence and punish Black and Latino workers.”

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