Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) Union members are protesting the Montgomery-based organization over its plan to reopen offices following the coronavirus pandemic, levying claims of racial discrimination.

According to a statement released by the SPLC Union, union members held a picket outside the organization’s headquarters “to protest management’s forcing mostly Black women employees to return to the office while allowing the option of remote work for White and higher-paid employees".

The statement said that many Black women have worked for the SPLC for decades without ample opportunities to advance. These women are four times more likely to be denied the ability to work from home than White women and seven times more likely to be denied the opportunity by White men, according to the statement.

“Seven of us who are among the most marginalized employees at Southern Poverty Law Center have processed over $200 million in donations over the last two years while working from home, and now we are being mandated to work in the office every day,” said SPLC Union Bargaining Committee member Lisa D. Wright. Wright is also the Bargaining Committee’s Steward.

Wright said she thought SPLC leaders should trust individuals to make decisions that are best for themselves, their families and their work and that the SPLC’s plan is “about policing and surveillance of SPLC’s lowest-paid employees".

Wright told AP News that they discussed options to work remotely “months ago,” but she’s been unable to figure out why the teams she’s a part of had to return to the office.

“We should all be able to be treated exactly the same," said Wright.

Union members called on management to change its plan to reopen by reexamining it “through a lens of justice, equality, diversity and inclusion".

The Southern Poverty Law Center

The SPLC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization specializing in civil rights and public interest litigation. It was founded in 1971 and is known for filing civil suits on behalf of Ku Klux Klan victims in the 80s.

The SPLC also provides information about who it deems to be hate groups to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other law enforcement agencies. It has worked with big-tech organizations such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon.

A long history of accusations

For the last 30 years, the SPLC has been accused of hypocrisy, facilitating an unhealthy work environment and leveraging its influence for ideological objectives.

In the 90s, the Montgomery Advertiser highlighted staffers’ allegations of racial discrimination within the SPLC, and that story was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 “for its probe of questionable management practices and self-interest at the Southern Poverty Law Center".

In 2019, SPLC co-founder Morris Dees was accused of sexual harassment and complacency with workplace racial discrimination. He was removed from the organization soon thereafter.

Later that year, Twitter dumped the SPLC from its Trust and Safety Council, an advisory group of organizations intended to “improve the health of the public conversation".

Many conservatives have criticized the law center for having a left-wing bias in the past. The SPLC produces a Hate Map to track radical and extremist groups.

Conservatives accuse the SPLC of including groups with standard conservative agendas on the same list as violent organizations like the Ku Klux Klan.

SPLC has faced numerous defamation lawsuits over its naming of those hate groups.

In 2018, it paid a $3 million settlement and apologized for branding Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz an “anti-Muslim Extremist” in its “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists".

In 2020, the Republican National Committee approved a resolution to condemn the law center’s standards for identifying hate groups. 

SPLC has also received criticism from the left for milking “gullible Northern liberals” for money while misaligning itself with its supposed values.

The law center’s response

According to AP News, SPLC president and CEO Margaret Huang said that the SPLC identified only 9% of employees whose positions required them to work in person, including those whose job is to process legal mail and donor contributions.

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