- 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.
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.”
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)
China Imposes Retaliatory Sanctions on US Officials Over Xinjiang Criticisms
- The U.S. imposed sanctions on Chinese officials last week over the treatment of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.
- The decision was the latest escalation during a time of heightened tensions between the two nations over policies in Hong Kong, the trade war, and questions about sovereignty in the South China Sea, among other matters.
- In response, China announced retaliatory sanctions against U.S. officials, including Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
- However, what exactly the Chinese sanctions will do is currently unclear as officials haven’t given specifics yet.
Sanctions and Counter Sanctions
Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) were sanctioned by China on Monday over their involvement in criticizing the nation’s actions in Xinjiang. Two other American officials faced sanctions as well for interfering in “China’s internal affairs,” as characterized by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
The Chinese sanctions were in retaliation over earlier sanctions the U.S. placed on Chinese officials last Thursday. The U.S. was able to do this following the passage of the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act last month. That law allows the U.S. to place sanctions, in line with the Global Magnitsky Act, on officials who are involved in the ongoing repression of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.
When the law was passed in mid-June, China warned that if the U.S. actually imposed any sanctions they would do the same in retaliation. after Thursday’s announcement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated, “We urge the US to immediately rescind its wrong decision and stop making any remarks or moves that interfere in China’s internal affairs and undermine China’s interests. The Chinese side will firmly fight back if the US obstinately pursues such agenda.”
Despite China’s threat, the U.S. imposed sanctions on certain Chinese officials and organizations involved in Xinjiang on July 9. The sanctions include freezing the assets these officials hold in the U.S., as well as restricting the ability of the officials and their immediate family members’ to enter the U.S.
In a statement on July 9, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote, “The United States will not stand idly by as the CCP carries out human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang, to include forced labor, arbitrary mass detention, and forced population control, and attempts to erase their culture and Muslim faith.”
Out of the four named individuals in the sanctions, one stands out: Chen Quanguo. Chen is the Communist Party secretary for Xinjiang and part of the Politburo and the highest-ranking Chinese official to ever be sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act. He first received infamy for his actions while doing the same job in Tibet from 2011-2016.
The Treasury Department named three other individuals who would have their assets frozen for helping Chen set up the surveillance and detention families in Xinjiang.
Additionally, the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB) was also sanctioned by the Treasury Department, and the State Department added that officials who worked with the XPSB were also liable to have themselves and their families denied entry into the U.S.
When speaking about the sanctions, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said, “The United States is committed to using the full breadth of its financial powers to hold human rights abusers accountable in Xinjiang and across the world.”
However, these sanctions will likely end up being largely symbolic because these officials don’t travel to the U.S. in the first place. It’s also believed that their assets aren’t based in America but in China.
Even as a symbolic act, it still made China upset. On Monday, the country imposed its own sanctions against the four U.S. officials in retaliation, including the aforementioned Senators Cruz and Rubio.
Cruz was likely placed on this list for his work as part of the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China. Two other officials part of that committee were also named, including Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), and Sam Brownback, a lawyer who also serves as the US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.,
Rubio was likely named over his co-sponsorship of the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act. Interestingly though, China avoided issuing sanctions on the other co-sponsor, Sen. Robert Menedez (D-NJ).
As far as what these sanctions will actually do, that’s a little unclear. So far, China hasn’t given any specifics as to what the penalties would be.
These recent sanctions are just the next step in ongoing tit-for-tats between the two countries. There’s an ongoing trade war, tensions over how Hong Kong is being treated by the mainland Chinese, issues over the sovereignty of the South China Sea, and major problems with how the Chinese are treating ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.
The problems in Xinjiang are so bad, that there are pundits and experts calling it a cultural genocide.
Even outside of the US, China has increasingly been pressured to change course over Xinjiang and Hong Kong.
See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Al Jazeera) (NPR)
San Francisco Lawmaker Proposes CAREN Act to Make False, Racist 911 Calls Illegal
- San Francisco City Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced an ordinance this week called the CAREN Act, which would make false, racially discriminatory 911 calls illegal.
- The acronym stands for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies. It is named after “Karens,” a nickname for white women who throw unwarranted fits in public.
- These fits often appear racially motivated and have led to “Karens” calling the police on people of color.
- California Assemblyman Rob Bonta has also introduced a similar piece of legislation that would outlaw these calls throughout the state.
Why the “CAREN” Act?
A lawmaker in San Francisco has introduced an ordinance that would outlaw making false, racially discriminatory 911 calls, dubbed the CAREN Act.
City Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced the ordinance. In a tweet announcing the act on Tuesday, he called racist 911 calls “unacceptable.”
The CAREN Act stands for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies, but its name bears much more weight. A “Karen” is an Internet nickname for white women whose privilege and entitlement leads to loud complaints, threats of legal action, calling supervisors, and often, calling the police. The unjustified outrage of Karens has been documented in countless viral incidents, and in many cases, they show a clear prejudice against people of color.
One video that went viral in May has been pointed to as a prime example of this. In that clip, Amy Cooper, a white woman in New York, called the police on a Black man named Christian Cooper. Both were in Central park at the time when the man asked her to put her dog on a leash, as she was required to do in that area.
However, that confrontation escalated when she desperately told a 911 operator that she was being threatened when she was not. Many felt her instinct to weaponize her white privilege and make a false claim could have had serious consequences considering the fact that Black Americans are more likely to face police brutality and die in police custody. She has since been charged with filing a false report after much public outrage.
While videos of this nature have often gone viral, this incident came at a cultural tipping point. Not long after it made its way across the Internet, another story received national attention: a video of George Floyd being killed by police officers in Minneapolis. This sparked a movement of people confronting systemic racism and police brutality, and since then, more “Karen” videos have spread online in an effort to hold people accountable for their racist behavior.
What the Ordinance Does
While filing a false police report is already illegal, Walton is pushing for more to be done to stop people from calling the authorities on people of color for no real reason. The CAREN Act would make it illegal to fabricate a report based on racial and other kinds of discrimination.
“Within the last month and a half in the Bay Area, an individual called the police on a Black man who was dancing and exercising on the street in his Alameda neighborhood and a couple called the police on a Filipino man stenciling ‘Black Lives Matter’ in chalk in front of his own residence in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights,” he said in a statement.
This is not the only proposal of its kind. California Assemblyman Rob Bonta has introduced a similar ordinance. His proposed legislation, AB 1150, would make state that “discriminatory 911 calls qualify as a hate crime, and further establish civil liability for the person who discriminatorily called 911.”
“AB 1550, when amended, will impose serious consequences on those who make 911 calls that are motivated by hate and bigotry; actions that inherently cause harm and pain to others,” Bonta said in a statement. “This bill is incredibly important to upholding our values and ensuring the safety of all Californians.”
Catholic Church Granted at Least $1.4 Billion in PPP Loans
- An analysis from the Associated Press found that the Catholic Church received at least between $1.4 and $3.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid.
- The report identified 3,500 loans the Church received from the Paycheck Protection Program, but leaders have previously stated that as many as 9,000 bodies of the Church received funding.
- However, government data only shared who received loans over $150,000. Smaller churches that received under that amount were not on the list, meaning the Catholic Church could have collected even more than records show.
- Usually, religious groups would not be eligible for funding from the Small Business Administration, but the Church allegedly spent a good chunk of money lobbying so that there would be an exception for the PPP.
Catholic Church Receives Billions in PPP Funds
While houses of worship and religious organizations are usually ineligible for federal aid from the Small Business Administration, an exception was made for the Paycheck Protection Program, which was designed to keep American businesses afloat as the pandemic shut the country down.
The AP found records of 3,500 forgivable loans for Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools, and other ministries. That number, however, is likely higher.
The Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference has claimed that 9,000 Catholic bodies received loans. Government data only shared loans over $150,000, so smaller churches who got less were not on the list, meaning the Church may have pocketed even more than $3.5 billion.
“The government grants special dispensation, and that creates a kind of structural favoritism,” Micah Schwartzman, a University of Virginia law professor told the AP. “And that favoritism was worth billions of dollars.”
According to the AP, the Archdiocese of New York received $28 million just for executive offices. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City received $1 million. Diocesan officials in Orange County, California received four loans worth $3 million. The AP’s analysis suggests that the Catholic Church and its entities were able to retain 407,900 jobs with this loan money.
“These loans are an essential lifeline to help faith-based organizations to stay afloat and continue serving those in need during this crisis,” spokesperson Chieko Noguchi told the AP.
How Did the Church Get Aid?
Like many businesses throughout the country, churches had to shut their doors as large gatherings became unsafe as the coronavirus’ spread continued. Masses were canceled or moved online and celebrations for the Easter holidays were dropped, causing the Church to to fall behind financially.
While its global net worth is not known, the Catholic Church is considered the wealthiest religious organization in the world. It is also one of the most powerful groups of any kind, with an estimated 1.2 billion followers all over the planet. According to the AP, its deep pockets and far-reaching influence helped it receive federal aid.
The Catholic Church lobbied heavily to make sure religious groups were allowed to receive money from the PPP, the AP says. Their report found that the Los Angeles archdiocese spent $20,000 lobbying Congress to include “eligibility for non-profits” in the CARES Act, the legislation that formed the PPP. Records also show that Catholic Charities USA spent another $30,000 in CARES Act lobbying.
With its wealth and power, the Catholic Church is also plagued with controversy and scandal. For years, there have been reports that the Church has covered up for priests and other leaders who have been accused of sexual abuse. Many entities of the church have had to shell out large sums of money in legal fees and settlements.
The AP found that around 40 of the dioceses that have paid out “hundreds of millions of dollars” to related compensation funds or bankruptcy proceedings received loans. These loans totaled at least $200 million.