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Tesla Fires Workers After Saying They Could Stay Home Over COIVD-19 Fears

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  • Tesla has been accused of firing two workers who spoke out about conditions at its Fremont, California plant.
  • However, the company said employees were fired because they didn’t show up to work, despite being told they didn’t need to if they had concerns over COVID-19.
  • Conditions reported at the plant, and within the country, show that COVID-19 is still a real threat as cases continue to rise.

Tesla in the Era of COVID-19

Tesla is under scrutiny for firing two employees last week who allegedly failed to show up to work. However, those employees note that they were told they could stay home over COVID-19 concerns, and they believe they were really fired for speaking out about conditions at Tesla’s Fremont plant.

Since the June 16 firings, the company seems to have back-peddled on its decision, but concerns linger over how the company is dealing with COVID-19 at their plants in Fremont, California.

Back in March, Alameda County, the area where Tesla’s auto plants are located, issued some of the nation’s first stay-at-home orders. Elon Musk tried to keep the plant open, but in an email to employees, he explained that if workers felt uncomfortable or sick, they could stay home on unpaid leave.

Eventually, Alameda County cracked down and forced Tesla to limit its operations to just the ‘minimum basic operations.”

In early May, Musk decided to reopen the Tesla factory in direct defiance of the county’s orders. For a second time, he sent an email to employees stating “[if] you feel uncomfortable coming back to work at this time, please do not feel obligated to do so.”

Carlos Gabriel and Jessica Naro

The two employees who were fired are Carlos Gabriel and Jessica Naro.

They were officially released via email over a “Failure to Return to Work.” The emails, which have been viewed by outlets like The Washington Post, said that Tesla’s Human Resources had allegedly been trying to get in touch with the employees and couldn’t reach them. 

However, both Gabriel and Naro were able to provide proof to Human Resources that they had continued communication with their managers for months. Gabriel even provided an email sent in May from Vince Woodard, Tesla’s acting Human Resource Director.

“Carlos, there is no need to feel that you are going to lose your job,” the email said. “If at this time you do not feel comfortable returning to work, you can stay home without penalty and take the time unpaid.“

Both employees were given the opportunity to dispute their termination and both took up that offer. Naro was eventually offered her position back, but in both the initial termination email and later talks, Tesla pushed to know when she would be coming back to work. This is how she described the exchange to The Mercury News:

“I actually spoke with a [supervisor] … and he said, ‘Do you have any idea when you’re gonna be returning back?’ and I said, ‘When covid-19 is over.’ ”

As for Gabriel, he hasn’t received his job back because Tesla’s Human Resources refused to allow him to record the call or move the conversation over to email. He made it clear to outlets that Tesla has lost his trust and that he couldn’t go back because of that, along with alleged unsafe conditions at the plant.

Their public and vocal concerns over those conditions are the reason Gabriel and Naro think they were actually fired. They spoke out about conditions at the Tesla Fremont plant at a news conference on June 15t, the day before their termination at Tesla. Although currently there is no other information at this time to corroborate those accusations.

Conditions in Fremont

Currently, conditions within the Tesla plants are a concern for many employees. Gabriel described the situation to The Mercury News as, “Some people don’t really care about wearing PPE. PPE is thrown on the ground after being used. People are afraid to go to the bathroom. People are afraid to eat.”

The Washington Post has reached out to about a half-dozen employees who corroborated their claims. Those workers, like Gabriel, claim that people don’t care to use personal protective equipment (PPE) at all, or use it improperly. According to The Washington Post, one employee named Branton Phillips said that the use of PPE was contentious at the factory, like in many parts of the country describing it like “you’re reflecting what’s outside in the world inside the plant.”

There are also alleged sanitation issues. Many employees claim that there is lax enforcement over actually cleaning equipment after it is used. Cleaning is usually done after lunch, but in some spots of the factory, multiple employees are constantly touching the same areas or items without consistent sanitation.

Additionally, social distancing isn’t being properly enforced. In some parts of the factory, it’s understandably much more difficult to social distance, such as on the vehicle assembly line. Yet in instances where social distancing should be possible, it still doesn’t happen. Employees claim that during in-person team meetings, people are usually three feet apart, rather than the recommended six.

Tesla is also accused of not being transparent over potential cases of COVID-19 in their plants. Employees claim they have no idea how many cases of COVID-19 have actually been at the Fremont plants. Sometimes coworkers will disappear for two weeks, and their colleagues are only told they’re “sick.” Managers counter and say they can’t disclose medical information.

But even rough numbers of cases aren’t told to workers. Employees at Tesla’s seat plant, which is down the road from the main facility, were comparatively in-the-know about COVID-19 at Tesla’s factories. They were told that there were two cases of COVID-19 leading to at least three exposures.

Alameda and California Concerns

Criticisms over a lack of transparency also applies to Alameda County, which hasn’t released information about any cases of the coronavirus at Tesla.

However, on June 23, a spokesperson for the county said, “Tesla is reporting their cases among employees directly to [the Alameda County Public Health Department] as required by their Site Specific Plan, which is also a requirement for all businesses that are reopening.”

She added the county was working on getting more information out, given the public interest in the situation. Yet, Tesla is just the tip of the iceberg for Alameda County, which is among the hardest-hit counties in California.

This week, it hit over 5,000 cases, and in general, California has seen a massive spike in cases. On June 23, there were nearly 7,150 new cases of the coronavirus within the state, and for weeks now the number of new cases has been rising.

Alameda cumulative cases as of June 23rd, 2020

In response, Governor Gavin Newsom declared last week that face masks are required in public spaces. That order is likely to face backlash in rural parts of the state, as well as highly populated areas like Orange County and the Inland Empire; both of which have populations that pushed back against county-imposed mask requirements.

Despite this, the state has reopened in a lot of ways. Currently, nearly every business is allowed to be open, aside from businesses like night clubs and bars, among a few others. However, businesses that remain open are allowed to with some caveats like social distancing.

That may soon change, in a press conference held on June 22, Newsom said that he was prepared to “revert back” to more strict coronavirus restrictions. The governor also added that while the state is capable of reverting restrictions, Californians could avoid it by “…being a little bit more thoughtful about how we go about our day-to-day lives.”

Gov. Newsom’s June 22nd update regarding California COVID-19 via CBS 8 San Diego

Nationwide Trends

It’s not just California that has seen a spike in new cases either. Oklahoma, Florida, and other states also reported new records of daily cases. This week, the United States as a whole broke its previous daily new case record.

These recent spikes are primarily located in Southern and Western states, but there is some good news. Some previously hard-hit places, like New York and New Jersey, have managed to keep their cases under control.

On June 23, Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a Capitol Hill hearing that states may want to consider being flexible with their reopening plans in response to new cases, and added:

“I wouldn’t necessarily say an absolute shutdown, lockdown, but if someone is going from gateway to Phase 1 to Phase 2 and they get into trouble in Phase 2, they may need to go back to Phase 1, ” he explained.

And states are doing just that. In addition to California: Louisiana, Oregon, North Carolina, and Kansas have all announced delays in their reopening schedules.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)

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Derek Chauvin and 3 Others Ex-Officers Indicted on Civil Rights Charges Over George Floyd’s Death

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  • The Justice Department filed federal criminal charges Friday against Derek Chauvin and three other former Minneapolis police officers after a grand jury indicted them for violating the civil rights of George Floyd.
  • The indictment charges Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao for violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and unreasonable force. All three, as well as Thomas Lane, were also charged with failing to provide medical care to Floyd. 
  • Chauvin was additionally hit with two counts in a separate indictment, which claims he violated the civil rights of a 14-year-old boy who he allegedly held by the neck and repeatedly beat with a flashlight during a 2017 arrest.
  • Chauvin was already convicted last month of murder and manslaughter over Floyd’s death, which Kueng, Lane, and Thao were previously charged for allegedly aiding and abetting.

Former Minneapolis Officers Hit With Federal Charges

A federal grand jury indicted Derek Chauvin and three other former Minneapolis police officers for violating George Floyd’s civil rights during the arrest that lead to his death last summer, the Justice Department announced Friday.

Chauvin, specifically, was charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and unreasonable force by a police officer. Ex-officers J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were indicted for willfully failing to intervene in Chauvin’s unreasonable use of force.

All three men, as well as former officer Thomas Lane, face charges for failing to provide medical care to Floyd, “thereby acting with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm to Floyd,” according to the indictment.

In a second, separate indictment, Chauvin was hit with two counts of civil rights violations related to the arrest of a 14-year-old boy in September 2017. During that incident, Chauvin allegedly held the boy by the neck and hit him with a flashlight repeatedly.

The announcement, which follows a months-long investigation by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, comes just over two weeks after Chauvin was found guilty of three state charges of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death.

He is currently awaiting his June 25 sentencing in a maximum-security prison.

State-Level Charges

Kueng, Lane, and Thao all face state charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.

Kueng and Lane were the first officers to responded to a call from a convenience store employee who claimed that Floyd used a counterfeit $20 bill. Body camera footage showed Floyd sitting in the car and Lane drawing his gun as the officers ordered him out and handcuffed him. 

Floyd can be heard pleading with the officers not to shoot him.

Shortly after, Chauvin and Thao arrived, and the footage shows Chauvin joining the other officers in their attempt to put Floyd into the back of a police car. In the struggle, the officers forced Floyd to the ground, with Chauvin kneeling on his neck while Kueng and Lane held his back and legs. 

Meanwhile, in cellphone footage taken at the scene, Thao can be seen ordering bystanders to stay away, and later preventing a Minneapolis firefighter from giving Floyd medical aid.

Their trial is set to begin in late August, and all three are free on bond. The new federal charges, however, will likely be more difficult to prove.

According to legal experts, prosecutors will have to show beyond reasonable doubt that the officers knew that they were depriving Floyd of his constitutional rights but continued to do so anyway.

The high legal standard is also hard to establish, as officers can easily claim they acted out of fear or even poor judgment.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Associated Press)

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Caitlyn Jenner Says Her Friends Are Fleeing California Because of the Homeless Population

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  • California gubernatorial candidate Caitlyn Jenner sparked outrage after an interview with Sean Hannity on Wednesday that was filmed from her Malibu airplane hangar. 
  • “My friends are leaving California,” she said. “My hangar, the guy right across, he was packing up his hangar and I said, ‘Where are you going?’ And he says, ‘I’m moving to Sedona, Arizona. I can’t take it anymore. I can’t walk down the streets and see the homeless.’”
  • Many criticized Jenner for sounding out of touch and unsympathetic to real issues in California and suggested that she prioritize helping the homeless population rather than incredibly wealthy state residents.

Caitlyn Jenner’s Remarks

California gubernatorial candidate Caitlyn Jenner sparked outrage on Wednesday after suggesting that wealthy people are fleeing the state because of its homeless population.

Jenner sat down for an interview in her Malibu airplane hangar with Fox News’ Sean Hannity. Jenner is one of the handful of Republicans aiming to unseat current Governor Gavin Newsom in a recall election in the fall. While polls show that most Californians do not support recalling Newsom, the conservative-led movement to do so gained enough signatures to land on the ballot.

“My friends are leaving California,” Jenner claimed during the interview. “My hangar, the guy right across, he was packing up his hangar and I said, ‘where are you going?’ And he says, ‘I’m moving to Sedona, Arizona, I can’t take it anymore. I can’t walk down the streets and see the homeless.’” 

“I don’t want to leave,” she continued. “Either I stay and fight, or I get out of here.”

Jenner’s Remarks Prompt Backlash

Her remarks were criticized online by people who thought Jenner sounded unsympathetic and out of touch to the real issues in the state. Many found it hypocritical that Jenner has slammed Newsom for being elite but was so concerned for wealthy people who don’t like having to see unhoused residents on the street.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Ca.) called Jenner out on Twitter for seemingly fighting for a small percentage of Californians. 

Unlike you, Dems are focused on the 99% of people who don’t own planes or hangars,” he wrote. “And you know what’s going to help reduce homelessness? The #AmericanRescuePlan, which your party opposed.”

Others suggested she prioritize directly addressing the homeless situation.

“If you don’t like the homeless situation, instead of hiding in your PRIVATE PLANE HANGAR, your campaign should be about helping them,” actress Merrin Dungey said. “They don’t like their situation either. Your lifelong privilege is showing. It’s not a good color.”

Jenner, an Olympic gold medalist and reality star, is one of the most prominent transgender Americans. Because homelessness is such a common issue within the trans community, some were frustrated she was not using her campaign to fix the situation, and rather used it to complain about how it impacted her wealthy friends. 

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (Politico) (Washington Post)

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Derek Chauvin Seeks New Trial In George Floyd Murder Case

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  • A lawyer for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who was convicted of murdering George Floyd, filed a motion Tuesday for a new trial.
  • Among other complaints about Chauvin’s conviction, the attorney cited “prosecutorial and jury misconduct; errors of law at trial; and a verdict that is contrary to law.”
  • He also claimed the court “abused its discretion” by not granting a change of venue or sequestering the jury for the duration of the trial, arguing that publicity before and during it threatened its fairness. 
  • John Stiles, deputy chief of staff for Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, told CNN, “The court has already rejected many of these arguments and the State will vigorously oppose them.”

Derek Chauvin’s Attorney Files Motion for New Trial

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is officially asking for a new trial, hoping to overturn his conviction for the murder of George Floyd.

His attorney, Eric Nelson, filed court paperwork Tuesday laying out a number of errors he believes were made during Chauvin’s legal proceedings that violated his constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial. Nelson cited alleged issues, including, “prosecutorial and jury misconduct; errors of law at trial; and a verdict that is contrary to law.”

The filing did not cite any specific examples of jury misconduct, but Nelson also argued that the court “abused its discretion” by not granting a change of venue or sequestering the jury for the duration of the trial.

The court proceedings took place in the same city where Floyd was killed and where protesters drew national attention by calling for justice in his name. As a result, Nelson claimed that publicity before and during the trial threatened its fairness. He also argued that a defense expert witness was intimidated after he testified, but before the jury deliberated.

His filing asks for a hearing to impeach the guilty verdict, in part, on the grounds that the 12 jurors “felt threatened or intimidated, felt race-based pressure during the proceedings, and/or failed to adhere to instructions during deliberations.”

It’s unclear exactly what will come of this request, but John Stiles, deputy chief of staff for Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, told CNN, “The court has already rejected many of these arguments and the State will vigorously oppose them.”

For instance, a judge previously denied Chauvin’s request to move the trial in March, saying, “I don’t think there’s any place in the state of Minnesota that has not been subjected to extreme amounts of publicity on this case.”

See what others are saying: (CNN) (NPR) (CBS)

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