Shift to Oppose Workplace Discrimination Draws Criticism

By 
Scott Stewart
The Daily Record

The Nebraska State Chamber of Commerce and Industry drew a rare rebuke from Gov. Pete Ricketts last week after the chamber announced it would oppose workplace discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

The policy change was one of several adopted by the state chamber to align its positions with Blueprint Nebraska, a statewide strategic economic development plan

“When we said we’re all in on Blueprint Nebraska, we meant it,” said Nebraska Chamber President Bryan Slone.

Ricketts accused the chamber of going beyond the policies envisioned by Blueprint Nebraska.

“The Governor opposes adding additional protected classes to state law,” spokesperson Taylor Gage said. “The State Chamber’s press release inaccurately characterizes Blueprint’s position regarding new protected classes. The final Blueprint report did not support such a policy change.”

Jim Smith, executive director of Blueprint Nebraska, told The Daily Record that it’s beginning to identify specific actions based on general principles in a comprehensive report.

“While Blueprint certainly appreciates the State Chamber’s support and its alignment with elements of the Growing the Good Life report, Blueprint Nebraska has no opinion or statement on the recent decisions made by the State Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors,” Smith said in an email.

The chamber’s announcement last Wednesday drew praise from lawmakers supporting a proposal to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Nebraska. The Omaha and Lincoln chambers have previously supported the measure, but the state chamber hasn’t.

“Our commitment to ensuring all people are protected from job discrimination continues, including discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Greater Omaha Chamber president and CEO David G. Brown.

State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks tweeted she was “thrilled” to have the chamber’s support on LB 627.

The Nebraska Family Alliance condemned the state chamber’s new position, as well as LB 627.

“Nebraska business owners should be free to live and work according to their faith without fear of unjust punishment by the government,” executive director Karen Bowling said in a statement.

Blueprint Nebraska includes an initiative to “promote diversity and inclusion to retain and attract talent, and connect communities across the state”  in its priorities. The plan seeks to make Nebraska the most welcoming state in the Midwest.

Smith rejected a suggestion the plan amounts to “virtual signaling” – expressing support for a view, often feigned, to generate praise.

“From the onset, Blueprint Nebraska has been about statewide economic growth, competitiveness and prosperity,” he said. “Blueprint included the promotion of diversity and inclusion and other key initiatives in large part because of their relative importance in attracting and retaining talent and growing the Nebraska economy.”

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