Saturday, October 24, 2020

Edward Snowden gets permanent residency in Russia as a federal court declares the NSA surveillance program he exposed illegal and Trump floats the idea of a pardon

 

(To the right, Edward Snowden)

 

North Carolina native Edward Snowden can stay in Russia the rest of his life if he wants, the Russian government has decided. The decision this week to grant the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor permanent residency comes just weeks after a federal court ruled the NSA’s massive surveillance program, which Snowden exposed, was illegal and possibly unconstitutional.

 

It also comes a few months after President Trump floated the idea he may consider pardoning Snowden for his alleged violation of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act in leaking those documents.

 

Snowden was the key topic of an interview Jonathan Michels of the Durham, North Carolina-based Southern Discomfort Podcast conducted of yours truly of Labor South earlier this month.

 

Here are a couple links to that podcast (you may have to copy and paste if the link doesn’t connect you, as is sometimes the case with blogging):

 

Podbean: https://southerndiscomfortpodcast.podbean.com/e/episode-4-snowden-surveillance-and-the-south-with-joesph-atkins/

 

iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/southern-discomfort-podcast/id1530582992#episodeGuid=southerndiscomfortpodcast.podbean.com%2F5b09d909-2a54-3a98-8523-122f96b45d55

 

Soundcloud: https://m.soundcloud.com/southerndiscomfortpodcast/episode-4-snowden-surveillance-and-the-south-with-joseph-atkins

 

Snowden’s exposure of the NSA’s unbelievably vast surveillance of practically any American it chose shook the nation’s intelligence community to its very foundation along with leading to the Pulitzer Prize for The Guardian and the Washington Post.  Many in that community and beyond still want his head, including Trump’s Attorney General William Barr, whose response to the president’s pardon idea was this: Snowden “was a traitor and the information he provided our adversaries greatly hurt the safety of the American people. He was peddling it around like a commercial merchant. We can’t tolerate that.”

 

Well, according to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, what Snowden was “peddling” was the illegally accumulated metadata that the nation’s largest snoop agency had collected, and which the American people needed it know that their privacy was in serious danger as well as the Constitution that hopefully protects them.

 

Snowden’s Russian attorney, Anatoly Kucherena, has this view. “He was acting not only in the interests of the American citizens, but in the interest of all the humankind,” Kucherena told the RIA news agency.

 

Trump’s floating of a possible pardon says more about the president’s own dislike of the nation’s intelligence community as a whole than it does any conviction he might have about the case. For Trump, this is a poke in the eye to all those federal snoops who helped keep Russiagate on life support all those months.

 

Soon after Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA back in 2013, Trump himself was calling for his head. Snowden is “a spy who should be executed,” he said. In August of this year, the president had this to say to the New York Post: “There are a lot of people that think that he is not being treated fairly,” Trump said. “I’m going to start looking at it.”

 

Hmmm. He’d better hurry. Trump faces re-election in a couple weeks, and Labor South’s prediction is that he’s going to lose, possibly big. All those thousands of early voters standing in lines for hours to cast their ballots don’t look like Trumpsters to Labor South. Could be wrong, but here’s betting they want to throw the bum out!

 

In his podcast interview with yours truly, Jonathan Michels asked about my book The Mission: Journalism, Ethics and the World (Iowa State University Press, 2002) and specifically Chapter Four in that book, “A Sinister Zone of Silence”, in which I discuss at length the spy and surveillance agencies that flourished in authoritarian societies such as Nazi Germany, Communist East Germany, Junta-ruled Argentina, and Mississippi before and during the Civil Rights Movement.

 

East Germany’s Stasi collected 6.5 million files—enough to fill 120 miles of shelves—on its 16 million citizens, utilizing the testimonies of 160,000 informers. Hungary’s counterpart collected information from 140,000 informants. Here in Mississippi, the state’s Sovereignty Commission, a taxpayer-funded agency that spied on suspected pro-civil rights citizens, collected 132,000 pages of information on everything from subjects’ integrationist ideas and activities to their sex lives. In fact, sex was a fascination for all these agencies, a delicious source of potentially embarrassing and ruinous little tidbits that could be used for threats and discrediting.

 

Even former NSA top official Bill Binney has decried the ever-expanding network of  security measures that has developed since 9-11. A senior technical director who helped develop the mass surveillance program, Binney told media outlets in 2014 how the NSA shared its information with federal, state, and local governments and their agencies. “We are now in a police state,” he said.

 

The scholar Samuel P. Huntington once described government’s penchant for secrecy. “Power remains strong when it is in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate.”

 

It’s interesting how little attention major mainstream media give Snowden or WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s ongoing extradition case in England these days, given the importance of these cases to journalism as a whole. Corporate-owned mainstream media like to talk about the First Amendment and their watchdog role, but too often they’re more like government lapdogs because they share the government’s desire for maintaining the status quo.

 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Nurses at Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, vote "UNION"

 


(A World War I poster)

 

Nurses at Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining a union in their September 16 election. By more than a 2-to-1 margin, the nurses said yes to joining the National Nurses United (NNU) in the largest union victory at a Southern hospital since 1975.

 

The campaign was cited in an August 21 post on Labor South. The Mission Hospital had once been a proud non-profit operation beloved by the local community until its takeover in 2019 by for-profit HCA Healthcare, one of the nation’s largest hospital corporations.

 

Nurses complained as services declined, staff were let go, and quality of care became secondary to profits. When the hospital’s new corporate owners continued to turn a deaf ear to those complaints, four nurses began an organizing campaign that prompted a fierce reaction by HCA. HCA hired union busters at $400-an-hour to kill the effort, but they were unsuccessful in breaking the spirit of the determined nurses.

 

“Asheville nurses have set an example that will motivate and drive forward the many struggles breaking out in this period” of global pandemic,  said the North Carolina-based Southern Workers Assembly in a statement. The SWA was one of several organization supporting the unionization effort. “This victory will strengthen our movement to organize workers in NC and the South, as well as the movement to win Medicare for All, which NNU has been leading nationally.”

 

The Southern Workers Assembly also asked Labor South for a comment on the victory, and this was my response:

 

“This is a great union victory for the South and for the nation, for working people who want and deserve to have a voice in assuring the fairness, safety, and quality of their work places and working lives. Here you had a big national corporation come in from out of town to take over a beloved local hospital and turn it into a profit-making machine that placed the bottom line over regard for patients and staff. Four nurses stood up against this Goliath and inspired others to do so, and they won. Such victories provide inspiration for workers everywhere.”

 

Yours truly discussed this campaign during a September 4 interview on the podcast Keeping Democracy Alive with Burt Cohen. A key theme of that interview was that Southern workers defy the stereotype that they can’t be organized. They can. The South remains the nation’s least organized region because of the phalanx of opposition unions have faced, a phalanx that includes the South’s business and political leaders, churches, and media.  To win requires commitment and determination.

 

The struggle is greater, the stakes are higher, and the victories sweeter.

 

The Southern Workers Assembly, an organization of unions and various activist groups, and the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE) are already targeting another ongoing campaign, that of sanitation workers in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Those workers shut down work on August 19 as they demanded hazard pay in the midst of the pandemic.

 

For more than two decades, the UE has been devising different strategies for organizing workers in North Carolina and Virginia.

 

 

Friday, August 21, 2020

Organizing in the South is on the rise - campus workers in Tenn., Miss., and Ga., meatpacking workers in the Carolinas and Georgia, poultry workers in Arkansas, and nurses in North Carolina

(A CIO recruiting poster from the 1930s)

Double-digit unemployment, widespread protests in the street, homeless camps spreading across the nation’s cities, governmental ineptitude embodied in Republican intransigence and a compromised Democratic Party, and a clueless president. Such were the early days of the Great Depression, but sadly it’s also reality in America today.

Change came out of all those troubles back in the 1930s. Franklin D. Roosevelt replaced inept Herbert Hoover in the White House and found himself pushed ever farther to the left by the failure of his first New Deal, the rise of populist Huey Long in Louisiana, and the growth of labor unions in what became the greatest social justice movement of that day. FDR came back with a second New Deal in 1935 that created the Works Progress Administration and Social Security. The Wagner Act that same year made unions a guaranteed right.

Much like the situation in the 1930s, nowhere are the political and economic failures of modern-day American capitalism greater than in the U.S. South, where a monolith of Republican governors and legislatures have proven themselves completely incapable of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and the accompanying economic collapse. In Mississippi, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves apes his hero, Donald Trump, in insisting on school openings even as coronavirus cases rise exponentially across the state. He even boasted recently of allowing college football to continue despite other college conferences shutting it down.

Back in the 1930s, Southern political leaders, all of them Democrats then, did their best to keep FDR’s social directives at bay when they affected their most prized constituents’ billfolds. They made sure new labor laws asserting union rights didn’t apply to farm workers. They kept civil rights legislation off the books and black Americans the nation’s lowest paid. They worked with textile and other industries to keep the South the nation’s least unionized, and they made sure that the region stayed what Roosevelt called “the nation’s number one economic problem.”

It still is.

The good news is that signs of a rising labor consciousness in the South are showing up across the region, a topic of discussion at a panel titled “Perspectives on Union Organizing Today” held August 4 by the United Campus Workers (UCW)/Communications Workers of America (CWA), Local 3565 via Zoom out of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

United Campus Workers win in Tennessee, organize in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas

I am a member of UCW Local 3565 and served as a panelist, and participants were happy when I told them I was going to talk about labor successes in the South, a topic never discussed in history courses, whether in high school or college, and rarely from a political podium.

The UCW itself is part of the “success story” with its work in successfully preventing Tennessee’s Republican governor from privatizing most jobs in the state’s universities in 2017. The union has since seen its membership grow across the region, including not only Mississippi but also Louisiana and Georgia.

Operating under government-sanctioned restrictions on public unions, the UCW is a non-traditional union in that it doesn’t have collective bargaining rights on campuses. However, this allowed it to establish itself without campus-wide elections. “Non-traditional” has been a modus operandi in the growth of labor consciousness across the region.

The Southern Workers Assembly fights for striking workers in the meatpacking industry in the Carolinas and beyond 

The Southern Workers Assembly has gained momentum as an activist group working with workers in the meatpacking industry, many of them African American and Latino, and the result has been more than 230 strikes and other job actions in the meatpacking industry in the Carolinas and elsewhere in the six months since the pandemic began. According to a recent SWA report, “rural communities that have a meatpacking plant have a COVID-19 infection rate that is 5x higher than those without.” The SWA has sponsored a Safe Jobs Save Lives campaign, and it has aligned itself with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Venceremos in Arkansas pushes for the rights of poultry workers

Venceremos in Arkansas is another non-traditional labor organization that champions the rights of the hard-hit workers in northwest Arkansas’ poultry plants. In April Venceremos (“We conquer”), a workers’ justice organization, led a march to the front door of Tyson corporation’s poultry plant in Springdale, Arkansas, to demand better working and safety conditions as well as hazard pay during the pandemic. By June, after getting the Arkansas government’s stamp of approval of its safety conditions, the company reported that 250 of its workers at the plant had tested positive for COVID-19. Soon some 13 percent of the industry’s workers in northwest Arkansas tested positive. The fight is still on with Venceremos leading the charge for workers’ rights.

 Following the led of FLOC in North Carolina and the CWA in Florida

These organizations bring to mind the successes of older labor rights groups like the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in North Carolina and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida, both of which forced companies to the bargaining table even though their membership is made up largely of immigrant workers.

Nurses organize in western North Carolina

Nurses in Asheville, North Carolina, have waged a valiant organizing campaign at HCA Health Care’s Mission Hospital in Asheville, once a proud and locally beloved nonprofit hospital before it was purchased by the nation’s largest hospital corporation in 2019. After many unheard complaints about the decline of service at the facility, four nurses led an effort that now promises to be one of the largest organizing campaigns in the state’s history. They’ve had to fight $400-per-hour union busters, the courts, and the state’s long anti-union history, but they’re poised for victory as an election is underway and ballots to be counted on September 16.

The struggle continues in all of these efforts across the South, but the workers who are part of that struggle put the lie to the old trope that you can’t organize the South. They’re doing it, and they’re gaining ground at a time when the nation as a whole is waking up to the bill of goods its political and business leaders have been selling it for way too long.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

From Justinian's day through the "Black Death" of 14th century Europe, Shakespeare's locked-down London, "Yellow Jack" in Memphis, and today, pandemics and epidemics have been part of our human history, one that hits the poor the hardest as the princes of the world escape to their castles


(To the right, artist Fritz Eichenberg's wood engraving for Poe's The Masque of the Red Death)

Fun-loving Prince Prospero wanted to have a party. Sure, the Red Death had killed half the population of his princedom, and the pestilence threatened to kill the other half with a horrid grip that forced streams of blood through their very pores. Leave the peasants to deal with it, the prince said as he invited a thousand of his fellow nobles to a masked ball at his castle.

Thus begins The Masque of the Red Death that writer Edgar Allan Poe published in 1842, a scant 11 years after a cholera epidemic had devastated Baltimore, the city where he himself would die in 1849, and much of the rest of the world. As the story unfolds, Prince Prospero learns that even he and the landed gentry at his party could not escape the pestilence. Among the masqueraders was a “tall and gaunt” figure “shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave.” And so it was. The Red Death had come to the prince’s ball, and soon the prince and all his friends would lay at its feet, as dead as all those peasants beyond the moat of his castle.

(Edgar Allan Poe)

As the world today wrestles with the Covid-19 pandemic that has taken hundreds of thousands of lives and sickened millions more, a look through human history and accompanying body of literature reveals that such events, whether pandemics or epidemics, have always been part of the human experience.

Here in the U.S. South, one of the most horrific examples—detailed in an earlier Labor South post--took place in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1878. A yellow fever epidemic, known as “Yellow Jack” and spread by mosquitoes that had traveled up the Mississippi River from New Orleans and which likely was brought to the Americas by the African slave trade, nearly destroyed the city of Memphis. Among the 20,000 left after a mass evacuation, 17,000 got sick and 5,000 died. A disease that produced “black vomit” as it destroyed internal organs, Yellow Jack left a city of “rotten wood pavements … dead animals, putrifying human bodies and the half-buried dead,” in the words of one physician who had been in the city.

The high-living Prosperos among the wealthy cotton moguls who ruled Memphis may have loved their mint juleps at the Peabody Hotel, but they had provided scant services for the city, allowing sewage to run through the streets and garbage to go uncollected. When the pestilence came, they blamed the poor Irish workers who populated the crude shanties along the river. Those Irish would be among the first to die.

History records pandemics in ancient Rome and Constantinople, where the Emperor Justinian himself in 542 A.D. became a victim of the bubonic plague—spread by rat fleas. It didn’t kill him, but it did countless of his subjects.  The plague would return many times to Europe and Asia. Called the “Black Death”, it wiped out one third of Europe’s population between 1347 and 1351.

As described recently in a New Yorker piece by Elizabeth Kolbert, war and protest and even revolution have often contributed to or resulted from the spread and devastation of epidemics. People took to the streets of St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1831, to protest the government handling of the cholera epidemic there. Toward the end of the century, riots after another cholera outbreak would spread from St. Petersburg to the Ukraine, planting a seed in the revolution that was to come.

Spanish explorers brought smallpox to the New World in the early16th century, devastating the indigenous population and helping to inspire the toppling of statues of Christopher Columbus today.

The literature of pandemics is rich and informative. On April 23, 1564, Willliam Shakespeare was born into an English town that would lose a fifth of its population to the bubonic plague before his first birthday. The plague would leave and then return many times over the course of his life, closing down his Globe Theatre and other London theatres, too, as all but the city-bound poor fled. Shakespeare wrote Macbeth during his own quarantine, and the play’s description of a “poor country, almost afraid to know itself … our grave” may have referred to Macbeth’s Scotland but is imbued with the writer’s experience of the plague.

In fact, the plague contributed to Romeo and Juliet’s suicide. Fear of it prevented the message getting to Romeo that the potion Juliet took did not poison her but only put her to sleep. And we all know how that ended.

(Ben Jonson, portrait by Abraham van Blyenberch)

Shakespeare’s contemporary, Ben Jonson, sets his play The Alchemist in plague-ridden London around 1610 where “the sickness hot, a master quit, for fear, his house in town, and left one servant there.” Yep, the master’s left town. Let the servant deal with the plague.

The history of pandemics and epidemics—including the deadly 1918 flu pandemic--reveals certain threads that weave their way through the entire record of human existence. Often first to die are the poor, as the landed gentry escape to safer confines. Political failure to provide the people with the necessary means to combat the pestilence stretches across the centuries. And, yes, the Prince Prosperos of the world are still among us.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Is race this nation's biggest problem? NO, but that's what our Corporate Rulers want us to believe. What is our biggest problem? They are.


(To the right, Norman Mailer in 2006)

The late novelist and journalist Norman Mailer, somewhere in his large body of work, once said something about modern-day journalism that was never truer than today. The media, he said, help “keep America slightly crazy.”

Maybe America has never been crazier than today after four months of quarantine as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Bereft of leadership with little hope for relief, facing a November presidential election that will pit a narcissist demagogue against a sleepy-eyed neoliberal chameleon, they remain largely hunkered down in their homes, many of them jobless, watching their televisions as anti-racism protesters go beyond condemning Confederate statues to tearing down or calling for the removal of statues of Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln.

They hear report after report about peaceful protests against police brutality and racism, but then there’s the burning and looting, the government-tolerated encampment in Seattle known as CHAZ or CHOP that considered itself during its brief and violent existence a patch of cityscape decidedly not part of the United States of America.

Meanwhile, the economy flounders and sinks into another Great Depression. Workers are ordered back to the assembly line regardless of the lack of safety conditions. Millions have lost their health insurance and have no means of paying the doctor if they get sick. Ballyhooed government assistance, they learn, has gone to friends of politicians and favored corporations rather than those who lost their jobs or their small businesses.

On the New York Times Best Sellers list is a book called White Fragility by a corporate consultant named Robin DiAngelo, who travels around the country and for big bucks tells white people they’re essentially hopelessly racist and their only hope is to listen to black people with a nodding acknowledgement of their own sinful natures. They can’t argue. They can’t even remain silent. They can only acknowledge and passively submit to the greater wisdom of DiAngelo and her ilk.

Even the arts provide no guaranteed refuge for truth and reason. The most-touted Broadway play in recent years has been Hamilton, which turned a pro-monarchy elitist into some kind of common folk hero, a book and a play based on a lie.

Mailer knew why the media keep America crazy. They tell half-stories with little context or well-grounded perspective. They react in ways that reflect a long-held American style of anti-intellectualism. Truth can be so inconvenient. They wet their fingers to see which way the wind is blowing and act accordingly.  And today, even more than in Mailer’s day, they’re corporate-owned, so they see life and America through corporate lens.

Corporate America does not want Americans to see the horrific legacy of decades of corporate hegemony in this country that the pandemic has exposed—the shameful divide between the wealthy and everyone else, the patchwork private health care system that has failed as miserably as politicians in stemming the spread of COVID-19, the raw exploitation of migrants, prisoners, and the working class of all races in the relentless search for cheap labor and profits, a Wall Street that no longer reflects the nation’s economy but only the growing wealth of non-producing hedge fund operators.

So what does Corporate America do? It does what it has always done. Divide us and take our eyes off the thousand-pound gorilla in the room. It tells us white Americans are hopelessly racist, that we have made little or no real progress in race in our nation, and our only solution is a lifelong wrestling match with our individual souls while Corporate America continues to run things. Are there race problems in this country? Yes, of course. Has the militarization of the police contributed to the hiring of thugs in uniforms who take special pleasure out of beating up and killing blacks? Yes. Is race America’s biggest problem? NO, for all the reasons above, but we’re simply too crazy these days to see it.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

In the pandemic and beyond, workers' greatest hope is when they stand together, and they can't depend on a political party to stand with them


(To the right, Barack Obama at the 2005 AFL-CIO national convention in Chicago)

I remember being very impressed with the young senator from Illinois as he spoke at the 2005 AFL-CIO national convention in Chicago about the dignity of the worker and the bold history of the labor movement in this country.

“They could have accepted their lot in life or waited for someone else to save them,” Barack Obama told the crowd of thousands. “Through their actions they risked life and living. They chose to act. In time, they won. … It started with hope, and it ended with the fulfillment of a long-held ideal. A humble band of laborers against an industrial giant – an unlikely triumph against the greatest odds – a story as American as any.”

A few years later, as Obama became president, he saw those promises and dreams plunge into the abyss of the Great Recession as countless workers lost their homes and their livelihood. So what did the nation’s first African American president do? He assembled an all-star Wall Street insider group of advisers—Larry Summers, Timothy Geithner, Rahm Emanuel--to help him guide American Business back to safe harbor. Banks were too big to fail, and corporate bailouts were the order of the day.

As for those laborers whose praises Obama sang in Chicago, they got no bailouts and they struggled as best they could to survive.

Working class people in America today really have no safe harbor, even in a pandemic that has real unemployment hovering around 20 percent, the highest since the Great Depression. The Republican Party, as always, looks at them with deep suspicion that they’re all either freeloaders or potential freeloaders who want an easy ride on the back of the billionaire class that funds the GOP and the journalists and preachers who use their podiums to teach obedience.

In the White House is a renegade Republican who talked the talk to working people on the campaign trail but who never walked the walk. He serves the bosses, not the people who work under them. He orders meatpackers and poultry workers back to work but says nothing to the owners to make sure the workplace is safe. He has even promised owners protection from liability. Like your typical cookie cutter Republican, he is contemptuous of government oversight and safety regulations.

During the administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, workers could turn to the Democratic Party as a loyal ally. However, the party largely abandoned the working class after the 1960s and became the party of identity politics where one’s race, gender, and sexual orientation, not class, are paramount to one’s identity.

Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden, who now will lead the party in this year’s presidential election (among his likely advisers is Obama’s old hand Larry Summers), liked to boast their credentials as men of the people, but they led a party too beholden to its corporate donors and too bereft of a true uniting vision to speak to regular folks any more. That’s why many of those folks, out of desperation, turned to the empty promises of the demagogue who now occupies the White House. At least he offered them the illusion of a promise, certainly more than what Bill and Hillary Clinton ever offered.

Bernie Sanders was a ray of hope to working people, but he has largely joined the party machinery since his abdication. Perhaps he tired of being an outsider in the millionaires club that the U.S. Senate still is.

The current pandemic has exposed the ugliness of the American economy, where workers depend on the management class for their health insurance, which those workers lose when they lose their jobs.  Income inequality is at a 50-year high in the United States, which Donald Trump loved to boast as the world’s greatest economy before the coronavirus landed on our shores.

This is a nation where the prison system has become the world’s largest gulag, and struggling minorities and immigrants sit in its barbaric cells for months, even years, before they can receive a semblance of justice. Watch as those prisoners become an increasingly popular source of cheap labor. That’s what happened when sanitation workers in New Orleans went on strike earlier this month to protest their $10.25-an-hour average wages and unsafe working conditions during the pandemic. They were fired and replaced by prison inmates making $1.33 an hour.

Still more and more workers are rising up. Teamsters are once again revolting against the Hoffa dynasty that has compromised the union’s mission as a voice for laboring people. Smithfield Foods workers have protested the lack of safety measures in their jobs.

“At the edge of despair, in the shadow of hopelessness, ordinary people make the extraordinary decision that if we stand together, we rise together,” Obama told the crowd that day in Chicago in 2005. “And we do.”

He was right. Obama was always good at speeches. He told the truth, a lived truth and the only hope for American workers, and they don’t need a politician to tell them that it is true.

Friday, April 10, 2020

No Evil Foods in Asheville, North Carolina, may make good El Zapatista but Emiliano would be very unhappy with the way it treats its workers


(Emiliano Zapata would not be happy with No Evil Foods)

No Evil Foods on the outskirts of Asheville, North Carolina, takes pride in being a very cool and hip company.  On its web site, it proclaims the following: “No Evil Foods makes meat from nothin’ but plants. We are makers driven to help hungry mouths everywhere recognize the connection between food, kindness to self and others, and environmental impact.”

This is a company with a leftist schtick. Among its vegan meat products are Comrade Cluck and the chorizo-like El Zapatista. Its owners like to call themselves “revolutionary leaders”.

Well, comrades, Emiliano would not be very happy with No Evil Foods if he were around today. With the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic threatening its dozens of employees much like it’s threatening all of us, No Evil Foods has insisted that, as a food operation, it is an essential service to its paying customers, and its workers must continue producing. This came despite a “Shelter in Place” order from the city of Asheville. When workers complained about safety conditions, they got an ultimatum.

“We could continue working for No Evil Foods and get a `temporary’ $1.50 raise after 90 days of perfect attendance, we could quit with the option to possibly return at a later date, or we could quit with a severance package of 3-weeks pay (after signing a gag order) with no option to ever return,” a worker at the company wrote Labor South in a lengthy, detailed letter recently. Labor South has decided to protect the worker’s anonymity.

A group of workers at the company issued a statement that was published in local media. “No Evil Foods has publicly created an image of being an ally to socialists, leftists, and workers around the country,” the statement said. With the outbreak of the virus, “we were told to wash our hands more. We were reassured that common areas would be sanitized more frequently. But as the number of infections continued rising, so did our concerns. With +60 of us working together between two shifts in a confined production area, we knew that proper handwashing and increased sanitizing of surfaces wouldn’t be enough.”

This is the same company that fought tooth and nail against a unionization effort by its employees back in February. It hired one of those union-busting law & consultant firms that companies and corporations pay big bucks to procure in the South, Constangy, Brooks, Smith and Prophete, a firm that sends its 200 lawyers across the South and beyond at an estimated cost of $2,500 per day to destroy union drives. Required employee meetings decrying the union, fear-mongering posters, and the usual litany of threats and other propaganda succeeded in defeating the union by a vote of 43 no’s to 15 yes’s.

On its Facebook page, No Evil Foods insists that “the safety of our team members, our customers, and our products is our #1 priority, and we take very seriously our shared responsibility to the country to maintain the food supply in this time of uncertainty. Our team is working hard to make sure everyone continues to have access to healthy, plant-based foods. Here’s what that means for how we do business: Starting March 16th, all employees who can perform their work from home are doing so. To ensure the safety of employees whose jobs require they be on site, we’ve amped up our already rigorous sanitation practices and capped production rooms to 10 individuals to maintain appropriate social distance, whenever possible.”

Still, as worker protests grew against how managers at No  Evil Foods “do business”, and media attention grew along with it, the company decided last week to offer its workforce “hazard pay”, a $2.25 raise. The action came just as workers were organizing a petition to demand hazard pay instead of the company’s earlier offer of a $1.50 raise with 90 days perfect attendance. “Word got back to management that this petition had a majority of signatures on it and was about to be turned in, so management jumped ahead of the game and ‘randomly’ decided that we should have hazard pay,” said the No Evil Foods worker in a second letter to Labor South.

Labor South telephoned No Evil Foods for comments on this story, and a return call was promised but never received.

Workers, however, consider the hazard pay offer a victory. “It was a pretty big win for all of us and it showed that if we have solidarity and a collective voice, we can get the things we want. We’re all thinking our next move might be to pass around another petition and try to make that pay increase permanent!”

Now, that’s something that would make old Emiliano happy.