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Religious freedom fight

By Lisa Brody
News Editor
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Seeking to create and maintain a vibrant and healthy business environment, executives from AT&T Michigan, Fiat Chrysler, Dow Chemical, Whirlpool, Herman Miller, Strategic Staffing Solutions, Steelcase, Henry Ford Health Systems, Cook Investments, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, Warner Norcross & Judd, Cascade Engineering, Area Agency on Aging, and Production Tool Supply, among others, spoke in October and November 2014 to the House's Commerce committee urging the amended adoption of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

"Michigan is in a global war for talent," said Brad Williams, vice president, global relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, which puts on the annual Mackinac Policy Conference. The Detroit Chamber supported the Elliott-Larson bill last year, which they announced at the 2014 Mackinac conference. "Anyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, we felt, were welcome to come to Michigan and utilize their talents here."

Williams said after they announced their support of Elliott-Larsen, there was talk that the House was going to run a Religious Freedom Restoration Act bill with it. "They felt the Elliott-Larsen bill would neutralize the RFRA, and the civil rights act would have protections from that RFRA bill, unlike in Indiana, where even the revised bill did not explicitly prohibit discrimination. Elliott-Larsen would prohibit discrimination."

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce said they have not yet taken a position on either Elliott-Larsen or Religious Freedom. Wendy Brock of the Michigan Chamber said, "We're currently listening to our members to see how they feel it impacts their businesses. We're hopeful we can learn from what's going on in other states."

Dr. Gary Rudgers, global regulatory leader for new business within Dow AgroSciences, told the Commerce committee during hearings, "In a highly competitive world where innovation is the key to securing competitive advantage, we know that it is our employees that are key to our success...With a shrinking and every more diverse talent pool, it is essential for us to actively include everyone to ensure we attract, develop and advance the very best talent. At Dow, we are committed to attracting, developing and retaining a diverse workforce across all spectrums: race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sex, age, protected veteran status, genetic information, mental or physical ability, sexual orientation or gender identity. Specifically, our LGBT policies have been good for our workplace for two main reasons: 1) retention of our employees has been enhanced, because they know they can perform their jobs openly and with full support of their personal and family situation without fear of repercussion and therefore have more reason to be committed to the company in return, and 2) better recruitment of allies and younger workers, who often gauge inclusive policies as a litmus test for prospective employers."

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