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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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2 Officers Shot, 127 Arrested in Louisville Following Breonna Taylor Decision

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  • Protests erupted across the country Wednesday night following the announcement that officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor would not face charges related to her death.
  • One of the three officers was indicted on wanton endangerment because he blindly fired throughout her apartment, leading to some shots entering the neighbor’s apartment.
  • Over 127 people were arrested in Louisville, and two police officers in the city were shot but are in stable condition. A suspect has been charged in the shooting. 
  • Across the country, many protests were peaceful, but others led to unrest, including some held in Denver and Buffalo where drivers rammed into protesters. 

Louisville Protests

At least 127 people were arrested and two officers were shot Wednesday during protests in Louisville, Kentucky over the lack of charges filed against the officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor. 

Protests began in the afternoon and carried on throughout the night after Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced a grand jury’s decision. Two of the involved officers will face no charges, and one, Brett Hankison, was indicted on wanton endangerment. That charge does not directly link to Taylor’s death but was instead brought on over the fact that he blindly fired throughout her apartment, leading to shots entering her neighbor’s apartment. 

Many were outraged that none of the officers would face charges related to Taylor’s killing, prompting protests across the country. In Louisville, where the case took place, the Courier Journal reports that the majority of the 127 arrests were over curfew and unlawful assembly violations. Two of those arrested were reporters for the Daily Caller

Two officers were also shot after they responded to reports of gunfire at a busy intersection. They are both in stable condition and sustained non-life-threatening injuries. A suspect is in custody and was charged with two counts of first-degree assault of a police officer and other counts of first-degree wanton endangerment. The FBI will be aiding in the investigation into what happened. 

After this shooting, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear addressed his state and the protesters in it. 

“Sadly we have seen at least one individual turn non-violent ways of expressing ourselves into the shooting of at least two law enforcement officers,” he said. “We know that the answer to violence is never violence. And we are thinking about those two officers and their families tonight. So I’m asking everybody, please, go home.” 

Other political leaders also responded to the shooting. President Donald Trump said he spoke to Beshear and said the federal government was ready to step in as protests escalated. Beshear had already approved the deployment of the National Guard earlier on Wednesday. A curfew was also implemented in Louisville. 

Presidential candidate Joe Biden said he was praying for the officers who were shot. 

“Even amidst the profound grief & anger today’s decision generated, violence is never & can never be the answer,” he wrote. 

Nationwide Protests

More protests were held at cities all across the country, including Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. 

Many protests remained peaceful as demonstrators marched, calling for justice and changes to the criminal justice system. In some places, however, protests led to unrest. 

At least 13 people were arrested in Seattle during protests. Local reports say fires were set, explosives were thrown, property in the area was damaged, and some officers got hurt. In one incident in the city, a viral video shows a police bike riding over someone’s head. Police are aware of the video and told the Washington Post they would be referring it to the city’s Office of Police Accountability for an investigation.

In Portland, authorities declared a demonstration a riot after rocks were thrown at a precinct’s window. A protester also threw a molotov cocktail, which hit an officer, though the flames were extinguished. Officers said that multiple arrests were made. 

Video footage captured in Denver showed a driver ramming through protesters. No one at the scene sustained major injuries. Police have detained someone related to this incident. 

In Buffalo, another video shows a the driver of a truck barreling into protestors. Local reports say a person riding their bike was hit and has broken bones but is in stable condition. The driver of the truck is in police custody. 

Responses to Lack of Charges

Before protests began, many took to social media to express their dissatisfaction. Ben Crump, who represents Taylor’s family, said the decision was “offensive to her memory.”

“It’s yet another example of no accountability for the genocide of persons of color by white police officers,” he wrote in a statement. “With all we know about Breonna Taylor’s killing, how could a fair and just system result in today’s decision?”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said it was time for a fundamental change in our criminal justice system. 

“Everyone-and I do mean everyone-should be against officers being able to walk into your home and kill you with impunity,” activist Brittnay Packnett Cunningham wrote

Celebrities also spoke out, including LeBron James, who said he was not surprised by the verdict but that his heart was still heavy. 

Kerry Washington encouraged her followers to vote, and Daniel Levy told his to donate to the Louisville Community Bail Fund. 

With all the ongoing public frustrations, Governor Beshear went on CNN and asked the state’s Attorney General to make information from the investigation public so that there can be transparency when it comes to how the decision was reached. 

Background

Taylor was killed in what has been described as a botched police raid in March. Three officers were sent to her apartment on a warrant because they believed her ex boyfriend had send drugs there. No drugs were found in the apartment.

While officers claim that they knocked and announced themselves, Taylor’s family, her boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who was there at the time, and her neighbors say they did not. When they entered the apartment, it was the middle of the night and Walker thought there was a break in, potentially by Taylor’s ex. He shot at the officers. The officers returned fire, killing Taylor. 

The case has led to national outrage as Louisville officials have been slow to respond, investigate, and announce consequences.

See what others are saying: (Courier Journal) (Washington Post) (Associated Press)

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4 UC Campuses Admitted Dozens of Wealthy and Well-Connected Students Despite Being Less Qualified, State Audit Finds

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  • University of California campuses admitted 64 less-qualified but well-connected students between 2013 and 2018, state auditor Elaine Howle said in a report published Tuesday. 
  • In the audit, Howle concluded that the UC system “has not treated applicants fairly or consistently.” In an interview with NBC News, she also said hundreds of more students could have been unfairly accepted into these four universities. 
  • In one example described in the audit, an applicant made the lowest possible scores on their application and was flagged as “do not recommend,” yet a donor relations admin passed on that application to a coach, noting that the applicant’s father had the capacity to donate major gifts to the school.
  • Howle has now recommended that the UC Office of the President oversees admissions for at least three years and said campuses should be required to verify athletic recruits’ talents.

Audit of UC Campuses

The University of California admitted dozens of less-qualified, well-connected applicants over a six-year period, “[depriving] more qualified students of the opportunity for admission,” according to a state audit report published Tuesday.

The report details how four UC campuses — Berkeley, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and San Diego — admitted 64 students (and possibly more) between the 2013-2014 and 2018-2019 academic years. According to state auditor Elaine Howle, the majority of those applicants were white, and at least half came from families with average yearly incomes over $150,000.

In one example outlined in the report, a child of a major donor applied to UC Berkeley but received the lowest possible score on their application, which was marked “Do Not Recommend.” Despite this, a donor relations administrator later passed that application along to an unnamed coach while noting  that the family had a “huge capacity” to donate and was “already a big supporter of Cal.”

According to the audit, the coach then identified that applicant as a qualified student athlete, even though the applicant “had played only a single year of the sport in high school and at a low level of competition.”

After accepting a spot at Berkeley, the student’s family donated several thousand dollars to the team, but as the report notes, “The applicant never competed with the team, and the coaches removed the applicant from the team after the season ended.”

Source: CA State Auditor

In a different example laid out in the audit, a UCLA coach admitted a student as an athlete as a favor to a donor, even though that student’s application had already been marked “Denied.” 

In fact, 22 of the total 64 applicants were admitted with the endorsement of athletic departments, despite not meeting the athletic qualifications. 

In another example, an applicant who babysat for the colleague of the former admissions director was accepted into one of the schools.

Howle’s Recommendations

In a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom and the California state legislature prefacing the report, Howle concluded “that the university has allowed for improper influence in admissions decisions, and it has not treated applicants fairly or consistently.”

“By admitting 64 noncompetitive applicants, the university undermined the fairness and integrity of its admissions process and deprived more qualified students of the opportunity for admission,” she added. 

As part of several recommendations, Howle said the UC Office of the President should oversee admissions for at least three years to “ensure that all admissions decisions are merit‑based and conform to the university’s policies on admissions.”

That recommedation will likely be especially stressed for UC Berkeley, which dominated the report with 42 of the total cases.

Still, in an interview with NBC News, Howle said she believes the UC system’s unfair admissions practice could run even deeper.

“There’s at least another 400 or so students… that were really questionable,” she told the outlet. 

Because of all those factors combined, Howle has also recommended that beginning with the current admissions cycle, campuses should be required to verify athletic recruits’ talents and review donation records for possible impropriety.

In general, Howle noted that “applicants’ chances of admission were also unfairly affected by UC Berkeley’s, UCLA’s, and UC San Diego’s failures to properly train and monitor the staff who review and rate applications.”

According to Howle, at times, admissions staff were “overly strict or overly lenient in their review of applications,” which made “applicants’ chances of admission unduly dependent on the individual staff who rated them rather than on the students’ qualifications.”

UC President Responds

UC President Michael Drake said Howle’s audit follows two internal audits that identified many of the same issues, with Drake noting that Howle’s audit will be used to improve the admissions system.

“Individuals involved in improper activities will be disciplined appropriately,” he stressed. 

A spokesperson for UCLA said its athletics-related incidents happened before the school adopted additional safeguards. Both UCLA and UC Berkeley noted that they have improved their admissions policies within recent years and that their review processes are fair. 

UC Santa Barbara also said it has adopted recent safeguards, including having faculty committees review an athlete’s academic and athletic history.

Still, Howle’s audit uncovered many more cases of unfair admissions than an internal UC audit released in February, which found only two instances of possible impropriety. That audit was ordered by then-UC President Janet Napolitano following the national college admissions scandal that has led to convictions for actresses such as Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (NBC News) (CNN)

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Celebrities, Tech Companies, and Others Draw Attention to National Voter Registration Day

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  • Celebrities including Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Ryan Reynolds, John Legend, and others took to social media to encourage their fans to register to vote in recognition of National Voter Registration Day.
  • Social media companies themselves have also launched their own efforts to get Americans to register. 
  • Facebook said Monday it has already registered 2.5 million people, but many say Facebook’s efforts do not go far enough and that people should be suspicious of its motives.

National Voter Registration Day

Thousands of businesses, election officials, celebrities, and others joined together Tuesday for National Voter Registration Day, a non-partisan campaign to register Americans to vote.

“National Voter Registration Day seeks to create broad awareness of voter registration opportunities to reach tens of thousands of voters who may not register otherwise,” the official website for National Voter Registration Day states.“Every year millions of Americans find themselves unable to vote because they miss a registration deadline, don’t update their registration, or aren’t sure how to register.”

The annual campaign has been highly successful in the past. According to the website, since the event first started in 2012, “nearly 3 million voters across all 50 states have registered to vote on National Voter Registration Day, including 1.3 million in 2018-2019 alone.”

But there is still a lot of work to be done. Nearly one in every four eligible Americans are currently not registered to vote, and as the campaign pointed out in a statement, “this year, due to COVID-19, voter registration is more important than ever.”

“Because of the closure of DMVs and halting of voter registration field programs amid the pandemic, the number of new and updated voter registrations collected across the country has fallen dramatically since March,” the statement continued.

To combat that, partners and community groups are hosting “both digital voter registration drives and safe, in-person registration events,” in addition to “working to provide accurate information to voters on how to prepare to cast a ballot, either through mail-in voting, early in-person voting, or going to the polls on Election Day.”

Celebrities Promote Campaign

Many partner organizations took to social media to promote the event Tuesday, as well as celebrities like Ryan Reynolds, Katy Perry, Kesha, John Legend, and more.

“This National Voter Registration Day, research the voting rights in your state and make a plan to vote,” Legend wrote on Twitter. “By making your voice heard at the polls, you can determine the future of our country’s criminal justice system.” 

Taylor Swift, who, accordiong to vote.org, inspired 65,000 people to register to vote in in 2018, also shared the campaign and emphasized its importance in an Instagram story.

“Hey guys, it’s National Voter Registration Day today. The election is November 3rd. It’s really coming up, and I’ve put together a swipe-up of resources,” the singer said. “You can register if you’re a first-time voter, you can check your registration, you can request an absentee ballot, you can figure out the process of voting early. We need everyone, and it is more important than I can even possibly say.”

Facebook’s Voter Registration Efforts

In addition to celebrities joining in on the campaign on social media, most of the major social media platforms themselves also took part.

Earlier this week, Twitter said it would roll out its biggest push yet to get people to register on Tuesday. Facebook, for its part, already begun its efforts even before National Voter Registration Day.

On Monday, the company said in a statement that estimated it has already helped 2.5 million people register to vote this year through Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger — already more than the 2 million it registered in 2016 and 2018. With just over a month until the election, the platform seems it is well on its way to completing its goal of registering 4 million people by the election. 

As part of its efforts to meet that goal and others, Facebook has implemented a number of initiatives. In August, the company launched a “voting information center” with resources about voting on Facebook and Instagram. 

Last weekend, it held a poll worker recruitment drive and announced it would be giving paid time off its U.S.-based employees who want to work at the polls. Just over this past weekend, Facebook also started providing users with information about how to register to vote at the top of Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger. 

The platform has also done a number of things internally to prepare for the election. Earlier this month, it announced several changes it had made to fight against voting misinformation, most notably including not running new political ads the week before the election.

While some say these moves by Facebook are commendable, many have believe they fall short. Others have even said we should be suspect of Facebook’s motives.

“Corporations are political entities, and we should not assume that platform voter registration campaigns are being done with only public good in mind and aren’t also strategic,” Jennifer Grygiel, a communications professor at Syracuse University who studies social media, told USA Today. 

“Social media companies have a lot at stake right now as they face increasing regulation. Their efforts to register voters could be serving corporate goals, and we need to make sure they are not strategically registering voters in a way that could skew the election.” 

Facebook and the Election

Facebook’s recent voter registration efforts also come as the company is receiving significant public pressure to do more ahead of the election.

Last week, numerous celebrities including Kim Kardashian-West, Demi Lovato, Jennifer Lawrence, and others boycotted Instagram and Facebook for 24 hours to demand the company do more to address misinformation and hate speech as part of the Stop Hate for Profit Campaign.

That campaign also led major boycotts against Facebook back in July by persuading huge companies like Mircosoft, Adidas, Ford, Coca-Cola, and more to temporarily halt their spending on the platform.

Despite all the mounting pressure, it is still unclear if Facebook will take any drastic steps.

During an interview with the Financial Times on Tuesday, Facebook’s Head of Global Affairs Nick Clegg said that the company will take serious steps to “restrict the circulation of content” on the platform if the presidential election descends into widespread chaos or violent unrest.

While Clegg did not provide any specifics, he did say the company had plans for a variety of outcomes, including civic unrest or having in-person votes counted faster than mail-in ballots.

While the country prepares for what is widely expected to be an incredibly contentious race, many worry that Facebook is not doing enough to prevent unrest, violence, and the misinformation in the lead up to Nov. 3rd.

As far as if Facebook will heed the demands that it do more before the election, that remains to be unseen.

“As well as fighting a rising tide of misinformation from both foreign and domestic operatives, experts warn that Facebook must prevent the platform from being used to foment violence,” The Times wrote.

“Mr. Clegg said Facebook was carrying out ‘proactive sweeps’ for dangerous groups and incitement, including ‘in areas where we know that their activity is likely to be more pronounced in other parts of the country.’” 

See what others are saying: (USA Today) (The Financial Times) (Billboard)

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