'Slave Wages': Union Leader Says SPLC Retaliates Against Unionizing Employees

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a far-left smear factory that routinely exaggerates the threat of "hate groups" in America for fundraising and political warfare purposes, is still recovering from a devastating sexual harassment and racial discrimination scandal that cleaned out the organization's leadership in March. Michelle Obama's former chief of staff, Tina Tchen, is still reviewing the organization's workplace culture and employees want to form a union. The SPLC is fighting this effort, and one union leader even suggested the group had retaliated against organizers.

Bruce Jet, an organizing director and local representative for the Washington-Baltimore News Guild Local 320235, under which SPLC employees are organizing, told the Montgomery Advertiser that the SPLC, which has an endowment of half-a-billion dollars, pays its workers "slave wages."

"People are underpaid to the point they can’t earn a living making $20,000, $30,000 a year," Jett said. "You’re talking about an organization with a half-billion dollar endowment. And they’re paying people slave wages."

Employees have long complained about a top-down workplace culture. "Above a certain level, the upper management is incompetent," a former employee wrote in March 2018. "They treat non-lawyers like objects and don't care for feedback or criticism. People are afraid to criticize upper management. Office culture is neglected and thus, turnover is high."

The SPLC Union filed paperwork with the National Labor Relations Board last week, the Advertiser reported.

"We hope to rekindle the flame of labor organizing in the Deep South and form a strong union at the SPLC that lays the foundation for a legacy of equal rights, respect, and dignity for all workers, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical ability, ad national origin," the union statement said.

The union claimed to have the support of a "supermajority" of SPLC employees in its 11 offices across the country.

Yet the liberal organization which often champions unions reportedly retaliated against its unionizing employees.  Jett told the Advertiser that some of the union organizers had been "harassed" and had "false charges made against them" within the organization. "They've got to change. We've go to initiate change and become part of the change," he said.

On Tuesday, SPLC management announced they would not voluntarily recognize the union and that they had retained a Virginia law firm that fights labor organization attempts.

Lecia Brooks, the SPLC's chief workplace transformation officer, sent a memo to employees on Tuesday, saying that directors had voted to allow an election to go forward. Brooks said that "unions reflect values that are in our DNA" and promised that the organization's leadership would "not engage in an anti-union campaign."

"SPLC is unequivocally supportive of employee rights in every aspect, especially employees’ right to organize, and we look forward to continuing discussions with our staff that will help make the organization stronger for the communities we serve," she wrote in the memo.

The union said it was "disappointed" in the board's decision but would go through an election if necessary.

"Management's refusal to voluntarily recognize the union and decision to hire a law firm that specializes in 'union avoidance strategies' are counter to SPLC's values," the union said in a statement. "The Center cannot truly claim to support workers' rights, while also hiring a 'union avoidance' law firm to prevent its own workers from exercising our right to collective bargaining."

Indeed, the SPLC management retained Hunton Andrews Kurth, a law firm that advises businesses against "corporate campaigns" by unions, advocacy groups, and non-governmental organizations, according to its website. Amber Rogers, a partner at the firm who lists "union avoidance strategies" among her areas of expertise, is representing SPLC management.

SPLC spokesman Eric Olivera wrote that Rogers "supports the work" of the SPLC and "is one of the few women of color across the country, and black women in particular, who extensively practice labor law and possesses the type of experience we needed to guide us through this process."

"Amber understands the Center’s historical support for unions, its current support for employees' right to form a union, and will give legal advice and counsel from that respectful understanding," Olvera added.

This apparent effort to prevent the union, along with claims of retaliation and "slave wages," further undermines the civil rights organization's credibility.

The SPLC has attempted to distract from the March scandal. Just two months after the scandal broke, the organization's interim director compared the organization to the Underground Railroad. Yet amid this scandal, a former staffer came clean about being part of a "con," and revealed the "hate group" accusations to be a cynical fundraising scheme — as well as a tool to silence political opponents.

The SPLC made headlines this week by publishing emails from Stephen Miller, who now serves as senior policy advisor at the White House. The emails showed Miller urging Breitbart to push white nationalist theories in 2015-2016. While much of the SPLC's attacks on Trump and conservatives are largely baseless smears, this seems serious and the White House's decision to dismiss it seems wrongheaded.

While the attack on Miller may be truthful, the SPLC routinely uses baseless guilt-by-association to destroy political opponents. The organization faces many defamation lawsuits for its "hate group" accusations. While a judge dismissed one of those lawsuits this week, more remain. In one case, the plaintiff has entered the discovery process, gaining access to the SPLC's documents.

This scandal will not pass quickly, and the unionization battle only draws more attention to the skeletons hidden in the SPLC's closet.

Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.