|Norton to Introduce Bill to Bring Congress Under Workplace Rights Laws When the House Returns Next Week|
September 30, 2011
WASHINGTON, DC – After the release yesterday of the Office of Compliance (OOC) annual “State of the Congressional Workplace” report, the Office of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) announced that Norton will introduce the Congress Leads By Example Act of 2011 when the House reconvenes next week. The bill would subject Congress and its agencies to health and safety standards and civil rights laws that currently apply to executive branch agencies and private sector employers, but not to Congress. Norton has been working on her bill since she conducted hearings in 2010 on safety violations in the U.S. Capitol complex and claims of workplace hazards by Capitol Visitor Center (CVC) employees. Norton said, “Congress made a first step in 1995 with the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA), but more than 15 years later, it is clear that Congress still has not come close to making itself accountable. The OOC report presents examples of troubling and unacceptable workplace issues on Capitol Hill itself, including harassment based on race, gender and age, as well as workplace hazards that can cause disability or even death. The OOC report provides Congress with the foundation to strengthen the CAA, and my bill seeks to eliminate shortcomings that OOC has found in current law. Congress must lead by example if we expect other employers and the public to understand why they must be held accountable to the nation’s federal workplace laws and standards.”
When she was chair of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management, Norton conducted an investigation of CVC staff complaints that employees were required to work in uniforms inappropriate for outdoor work in the summer and winter, and had limits on their water consumption, which were corrected as a result of the hearing. The hearing also examined claims by OOC of thousands of safety hazards in the Capitol complex. Despite passage of the CAA of 1995, congressional branch employees have limited protection from only thirteen of many civil rights, labor, and workplace safety and health laws other employees currently are protected by. While the CAA protects legislative branch employees from harassment, Congress, for example, exempted congressional offices from provisions in national sexual harassment laws that protect workers, such as requiring employees to post workers’ rights or to do training. The report indicates that while the overall number of employee requests for counseling on workplace issues decreased, requests related to claims of discrimination and harassment, as well as those related to intimidation and retaliation, increased in 2010.
In the report, the OOC, an independent and non-partisan enforcement agency created by the CAA, describes the conditions of the congressional work environment. The report highlights the successes and shortcomings in the workplace rights, safety, health and accessibility laws that aim to protect legislative branch employees. Norton, who was the first woman to chair the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, has expertise in workplace issues, and her bill seeks to resolve many of the remaining gaps in congressional workplace laws, including reporting of safety and health hazards, subpoena power to conduct health and safety investigations, and whistleblower protection for legislative branch employees.