As I mentioned earlier, businesses with fewer than 50 employees would be exempt from the LGBT job protections in Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s proposed Equal Rights Ordinance.
The above chart from the Greater Houston Partnership shows that in 2011, more than 93 percent of employers in the Houston metro area had 50 or fewer employees — and would therefore be exempt from the ordinance. Only about 6 percent of employers would be covered under the ordinance. I haven’t been able to find any stats for the city of Houston, and the metro area includes a much larger area. But even if we assume that Houston has more large businesses, it’s safe to say that more than 90 percent of employers will be exempt from the ordinance.
Other ordinances in Texas exempt employers with fewer than 15 employees, as would the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Here is a list of federal employment laws that apply to employers of various sizes.
One could argue that we’ll soon have federal employment protections, but with Republicans likely to maintain control of Congress in November, it could be at least three more years before ENDA passes. The Houston ordinance could be an important stopgap during that time.
The fact is, these municipal ordinances don’t have much teeth anyway. As far as I know, no Texas city has ever prosecuted an LGBT discrimination complaint. At their best, the ordinances are symbolic gestures that allow cities to engage and educate people about discrimination, and mediate resolutions when complaints arise. Under the current proposal, Houston won’t have an opportunity to do that with very many employers.
Parker should put the threshold at 15, and if the business community doesn’t get behind it, they are fools. Were they paying attention to what happened in Arizona? Can you imagine the headlines? “Nation’s 4th-largest city votes down nondiscrimination ordinance.” It’s just not going to happen in 2014, which is why we can and should be asking for more.
The No. 1 problem with this movement is that we are too willing to settle, too willing to compromise, too willing to placate. We go along to get along. We argue amongst ourselves about how much to give up before we even get to the table. Why would we ask for anything less in our fourth-largest city than what we are asking for in federal law? If nothing else, it sets a terrible precedent. Other cities that have few large employers will say, “Well, Houston put it at 50, so why can’t we?”