Jonesboro community members push for equal employment protection

Jonesboro community members push for equal employment protection

JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - A group of citizens is back after four years in an attempt to push the city to amend its employee handbook and protect citizens against discrimination.

The Jonesboro Fair Employment resolution addresses gender identity, sexual orientation, and veteran status.

Yesenia Hernandez, president of Northeast Arkansas Pride, says “all we want to be able to do is exist.”

On Wednesday, she submitted the resolution to the city clerk’s office with the hope that their voices will be heard.

She says she is not alone and said she has the support of NEA Pride, Human Rights Campaign of Arkansas, A-State Gender and Sexuality Alliance, A-State Young Democrats, Solomon’s Porch, St. Mark’s Episcopal 143 Community, and the Craighead County Democratic Committee.

“People have this misconception that if you allow people to exist that they are pushing their lifestyles on them or who they are on someone else,” Hernandez said.

Ryan Carter, an Arkansas State University student, began this fight, with the exception of veteran status, in 2015.

“It is very important for this to be codified in law and it can’t just be a picky promise from the mayor," he said. "It has to be written.”

The proposal died five years ago during a committee meeting when it failed to get a second.

Now, Carter and Hernandez believe they are better equipped to educate others. Herandez believes there is also a chance more progressive city council members may vote Yes.

When asked if there has been a problem with discrimination and if people are protected, Bill Campbell, director of communications for the city, responded:

“The City’s policy is taken directly from federal law and covers all protected classes in that law. We also have paragraphs that say employment and promotion decisions will be made ONLY on individual qualifications.”

However, Hernandez and Carter say that’s not enough.

Arkansas law states that no county or city can adopt laws on the issue.

“A county, municipality or other political subdivision of the state shall not adopt or enforce an ordinance, rule or policy that creates a protected classification or prohibits discrimination on a basis not contained in state law,” the law, Arkansas Code Annotated 14-1-403, noted. “This section does not apply to a rule or policy that pertains only to the employees of a county, municipality or other political subdivision.”

That’s why they are calling for extra protection.

“The motto of Jonesboro is ‘People, Pride, and Progress.’ If we are going to have any progress in the city, we are going to have to put people first just like our motto," Hernandez said.

The group will also host a rally at noon Saturday, Feb. 15, at the Craighead County Courthouse in downtown Jonesboro.

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