By Michelle Bates Deacon. Published in UU World online, February 27, 2012.
For each of the last five years, the Unitarian Universalist Association has filed shareholder resolutions with Verizon Communications to urge the corporation to add "gender identity or expression" to its non-discrimination policy.
In mid-February, Verizon notified the UUA that it has agreed to adopt the policy, which provides protection to transgender people and those in transition.
"This is a significant victory for the UUA's shareholder advocacy program," said Tim Brennan, UUA treasurer and chief financial officer.
Verizon is the latest in a string of major corporations that the UUA has worked to persuade to add gender identity protection to its workplace policies. Over the past five years, the UUA has filed or co-filed shareholder resolutions at multiple companies that resulted in gender identity protection for more than 2.9 million employees, according to Brennan.
The UUA has made a concerted effort to target companies that protect employees against discrimination based on their sexual orientation but do not have policies protecting people based on gender identity or expression. "That group is particularly vulnerable because it is largely unprotected by the legal system," Brennan said. "There has been tremendous violence against them and a lot of evidence of job discrimination."
Verizon's decision follows another significant victory for the UUA's socially responsible investing team. In November 2011, it learned that Walmart, the nation's largest employer, was adding gender identity or expression to its non-discrimination policy. As it had with Verizon, the UUA had been filing shareholder resolutions urging Walmart to add the policy for five years.
The UUA has been part of successful campaigns to push other companies to adopt non-discrimination language, including The Home Depot, Travelers Insurance, Procter & Gamble, Family Dollar, Lowe's, and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group. The UUA either filed or co-filed a shareholder resolution with each of those companies. Often, the UUA works in concert with the New York City Employees' Pension Funds.
In 2008, after the UUA began filing gender-identity shareholder resolutions at Verizon, the company sent a representative to meet with Brennan. "We triggered a conversation inside the company," Brennan said. At the same time, employees began pushing the company to change.
"Inside pressure and outside pressure gets companies to pay attention to issues they otherwise wouldn't," Brennan said.
The Unitarian Universalist Common Endowment Fund had a market value of $128 million as of Dec. 31, 2011. The UUA purchases funds in some companies that otherwise would not pass its screens so that it can participate in shareholder activism. The UUA owned 2,276 shares in Verizon Communications and 70 shares in Walmart.
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Last updated on Friday, November 22, 2013.
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