MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The union representing workers at the Southern Poverty Law Center protested Monday in front of the civil rights group’s headquarters, saying there are racial disparities in the organization’s plans to return to the office after pandemic restrictions are eased.
The Montgomery Advertiser reported that the union said a unit of the organization responsible for bringing in revenue and staffed primarily by Black women was being required to return to the physical office although other employees are being offered more flexibility. The protest comes as the union has been in contract negotiations with the SPLC management for over a year.
Lisa Wright, the corporate gifts coordinator for the organization and a steward of the union, said they had discussed options such as working remotely “months ago” but that she could not get information on why the donor team that she’s a part of had to go back to the office.
“We should all be able to be treated exactly the same,” Wright said.
The president and CEO of the organization, Margaret Huang, told the newspaper in a statement that the SPLC had created a flexible work model that allowed staff in certain, eligible roles to work entirely remotely.
“We have nearly 400 employees and have identified only 9% of employees whose positions require them to be in the office, performing activities such as processing legal mail and donor contributions,” Huang said in the statement.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is a decades-old group that advocates for social justice in the South and elsewhere. The Alabama-based organization was founded in 1971 and over the years has advocated for expanding voting access, protections for immigrants, and equal rights for members of the LGBTQ community.
But the group has suffered controversy in recent years. In 2019, Morris Dees, the founder of the organization, was fired; at the time the organization didn’t detail why but said they must act when conduct by staff members doesn’t meet its standards. The organization’s president, Richard Cohen, then resigned. Other staffers also left, and the organization’s employees voted to unionize in December 2020.
Huang, who used to lead Amnesty International for more than four years, was brought in in 2020.