The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO’s history, and that of the entire labor movement, has been about fighting for workers’ rights. This includes rights relating to dignity and fairness in the workplace. A union contract, and the benefits it provides, does not discriminate. It ensures equal protection and equal treatment regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. The labor movement also maintains that these rights, such as equal pay and non-discrimination, are fundamental, and should be enshrined in the law for all workers.
Today’s landmark decision by the US Supreme Court reaffirmed that the US Constitution grants equal dignity in the eyes of the law to all people. It was just over a year ago that Pennsylvania became the 19th State to recognize marriage equality when a federal judge struck down the Commonwealth’s ban. Since that time, the march towards nationwide marriage equality has only gained momentum; prior to this morning’s ruling, thirty-seven states plus the District of Columbia already recognized marriage equality.
This has been one of the defining civil rights issues of our time, with clear implications on the rights of workers and on the economic freedom of millions of Americans. Prior to the full recognition of marriage, employers could choose not to extend benefits to the families of certain workers, including health insurance, family leave, death benefits, and more. The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO recognizes that such divisions solely benefit employers and politicians who seek to weaken us in the struggle for workers’ rights.
Union membership has always been the best protection against such discrimination in the workplace, and it is STILL the only protection against sexual-orientation based employment discrimination in many parts of Pennsylvania. That means that without an employment contract that says otherwise, a couple that gets married on Saturday, can be fired from their jobs on Monday morning if their boss learns that they are in a same sex relationship. This runs counter to the entire notion of equal protection and equal dignity under the law. It is why the National AFL-CIO has come out strongly in support of federal legislation in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and it is why the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO strongly supports the passage of laws in the Commonwealth which prevent discrimination in employment and housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO has a long and proud history of uniting workers across the lines that divide us. Let us all resolve that today’s victory for equality and dignity shall add urgency to the fight for full employment equality in Pennsylvania.