GUEST COMMENTARY: State senate bill will hurt minority Missouri workers

Monday, April 25, 2011 | 4:38 p.m. CDT

Some might call Senate Bill 188 a slap in the face. But it might be better to call it a stumble backward since it puts us on the verge of returning to the days of when discrimination was tolerated in the workplace and whistle-blowers had no protection after reporting wrongdoing.

As the chair of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus, it is my job to lead legislative efforts to protect the African-American community. SB 188 will affect blacks in this state more negatively than any other group. It destroys protections that were fought for throughout the civil rights era. This is not only a slap in the face to African-Americans, but to several other groups as well.

Supporters of SB 188, which now sits on Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk awaiting signature or veto, will tell you that it’s good for Missouri because it’s good for business. Laughable, because the phrase “good for business” has become the whip with which corporations and politicians beat taxpayers who question any ill-conceived, greed-driven change to a law — in this case, the complete restructuring of Missouri’s Human Rights Act.

Here’s what the bill really does:

  • It lets employers fire employees because of religious beliefs, race, age, gender or disability, while giving the individual perpetrator a free pass to commit these acts over and over, without recourse.
  • It lets government entities fire employees because of age, race or gender without penalty.
  • It limits financial compensation to victims of discrimination, allowing businesses to budget how much discrimination they can afford.
  • It weakens whistle-blower protections for employees who seek to report illegal activities.
  • It lets an individual supervisor who sexually harasses an employee off the hook for discrimination and retaliation.

It short, this legislation is supported by big businesses — some of which are not even located in Missouri — that want to make it easier to treat Missouri workers like trash that can be tossed away.

If this bill is signed into law, good luck to the employee who gets too old, becomes pregnant or disabled or has the wrong skin color.

I urge all Missourians to contact Gov. Nixon and ask that he please veto SB 188.  Its passage will only bring harm to us all.

Steve Webb, D-St. Louis County, represents the 74th District in the Missouri House of Representatives.

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