MONTGOMERY, Ala. ( Associated Press) – The trade union representing workers at the Southern Poverty Law Center protested in front of the civil rights group’s headquarters on Monday, saying there were racial inequalities in the organization’s plans to return to office after pandemic restrictions were eased.
The Montgomery Advertiser reported that the union said a unit of the organization responsible for bringing in income and staffed mainly by black women is required to return to the physical office, although other employees are offered more flexibility. The protest comes because the union has been in contract negotiations with the SPLC management for more than a year.
Lisa Wright, the organization’s corporate gift coordinator and a union steward, said they discussed options such as working remotely “months ago” but that she could not find out why the donor team of which she is a part , had to go back to the office.
“We should all be able to be treated exactly the same,” Wright said.
The organization’s president and CEO, Margaret Huang, said in a statement to the newspaper that the SPLC had created a flexible working model that allowed staff in certain, qualifying roles to work completely remotely.
“We have nearly 400 employees and have identified only 9% of employees whose positions require them to be in the office and perform 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 has advocated over the years for the expansion of voting access, protection for immigrants, and equal rights for members of the LGBTQ community.
But the group has experienced controversy over the past few years. In 2019, Morris Dees, the founder of the organization, was fired; the organization at the time did not explain why, but said they should act when behavior by staff members does not meet its standards. The organization’s president, Richard Cohen, then resigned. Other staff members also left, and the organization’s employees voted in December 2020 to join the union..
Huang, who led Amnesty International for more than four years, was introduced in 2020.