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David Gespass, 205-566-2530
Heidi Boghosian, 917-239-4999
The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) demands the immediate release of its former president, Professor Peter Erlinder, whom Rwandan Police arrested early today on charges of "genocide ideology." He had traveled to Rwanda's capital, Kigali, on May 23, to join the defense team of Rwandan presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza. Erlinder is reportedly being interrogated at the Rwandan Police Force's Kacyiru headquarters.
"Professor Erlinder has been acting in the best tradition of the legal profession and has been a vigorous advocate in his representation of Umuhoza. There can be no justice for anyone if the state can silence lawyers for defendants whom it dislikes and a government that seeks to prevent lawyers from being vigorous advocates for their clients cannot be trusted. The entire National Lawyers Guild is honored by his membership and his courageous advocacy," said David Gespass, the Guild's president.
Erlinder traveled to Kigali after attending the Second International Criminal Defense Lawyers' Conference in Brussels. Since his arrival in Kigali, the state-sponsored Rwandan media has been highly critical of Erlinder.
The Rwandan Parliament adopted the "Law Relating to the Punishment of the Crime of Genocide Ideology" (Genocide Ideology Law), on July 23, 2008. It defines genocide ideology broadly, requires no link to any genocidal act, and can be used to include a wide range of legitimate forms of expression, prohibiting speech protected by international conventions such as the Genocide Convention of 1948 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966.
Sarah Erlinder, Arizona attorney and NLG member said, "My father has made a career defending unpopular people and unpopular speech-and is now being held because of his representation of unpopular clients and analysis of an historical narrative that the Kagame regime considers inconvenient. We can help defend his rights now by drawing U.S. government and media attention to his situation and holding the Rwandan government accountable for his well-being."
Before leaving for Brussels and then Kigali, Professor Erlinder notified the U.S. State Department, his Minnesota Congressional Representative Betty McCullom, Representative Keith Ellison, and Minnesota Senators Al Franken and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.
Professor Erlinder is a professor of law at the William Mitchell College of Law. He is a frequent litigator and consultant, often pro bono, in cases involving the death penalty, civil rights, claims of government and police misconduct, and criminal defense of political activists. He is also a frequent news commentator. Erlinder was president of the National Lawyers Guild from 1993-1997, and is a current board member of the NLG Foundation. He has been a defense attorney at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda since 2003.
The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) works to promote human rights and the rights of ecosystems over property interests. It was founded in 1937 as the first national, racially-integrated bar association in the U.S.(212) 679-5100
"I wonder how it feels to have a group of people challenge your pay and worth," said one labor leader sarcastically.
Television writers who have been on strike for a month applauded a vote at Netflix's annual shareholder meeting on Thursday in which the streaming company's investors rejected an executive pay package that critics said exemplified the greed of Hollywood CEOs and their unfair treatment of the workers behind their lucrative content.
A majority of the shareholders voted against a pay package for executives including co-CEOs Greg Peters and Ted Sarandos as well as Netflix co-founder and board chair Reed Hastings.
Under the proposed pay package, Sarandos would earn up to $40 million in base salary, a bonus, and stock options, while Peters would take home $34.6 million.
"I wonder how it feels to have a group of people challenge your pay and worth,"
tweeted labor leader Lindsay Dougherty sardonically. Dougherty is secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 399 and represents more than 6,000 TV and film workers.
Meredith Stiehm, president of the Western branch of the Writers Guild of America (WGA), noted in the union's letter to studio executives last week that the shareholders were also asked to give retroactive approval to the company's 2022 CEO pay package, which amounted to $166 million.
"While investors have long taken issue with Netflix's executive pay, the compensation structure is even more egregious against the backdrop of the strike," wrote Stiehm, noting that in contrast to the executives' annual pay, "the proposed improvements the WGA currently has on the table would cost Netflix an estimated $68 million per year."
Thursday's vote was non-binding, and could be overturned by the company's board of directors, but writer Jelena Woehr tweeted that shareholders' rejection of Netflix's pay structure could ultimately pressure TV studios to meet the demands of the WGA, including higher residual pay and better compensation for writers who are hired before a show has been given a greenlight for production.
\u201cThis is a fairly mild action but if they get mad enough about watching their shares lose value, activist investors can start causing a lot more trouble, and I suspect by fall they will\u2026\u201d— Yell in a Strike (@Yell in a Strike) 1685661537
The WGA West noted that executive pay packages rarely fail to get approval from shareholders.
\u201cInstead, this money paid the top Netflix execs who are creating risk for the company and shareholders by not offering writers a fair deal. 3/6\u201d— Writers Guild of America West (@Writers Guild of America West) 1685659853
"Shareholders should send a message to Comcast that if the company could afford to spend $130 million on executive compensation last year," she wrote, "it can afford to pay the estimated $34 million per year that writers are asking for in contract improvements and put an end to this disruptive strike."
"Your termination of my employment will not stifle workers' organizing, for when you fire leaders, it only brings more people ignited into the movement," said Jennifer Bates.
Amazon on Friday fired Jennifer Bates, a warehouse worker and lead spokesperson of the unionization campaign in Bessemer, Alabama, without cause.
The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) described Bates as the "woman who lit the spark of the current rise of labor activism." Her termination comes as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) continues to investigate RWDSU's claims that Amazon violated federal labor law in order to vanquish a union drive broadly supported by local residents.
According to RWDSU, the firing of Bates also comes amid a "monthslong worker's compensation nightmare. Bates continues to suffer from crippling injuries received while working at Amazon, which she spoke out about during the unionization effort, and for which has lengthy documentation." The union added that "Bates hit three years of service this May, an ominous number for Amazon workers whose pay scales top out after three years."
"Amazon terminated one of the most public pro-union worker leaders we've seen in a generation over an alleged paperwork issue."
"I went to work for Amazon because I believed in the future world of work, but at Amazon there is no future for workers like me," Bates said in a statement. "I have tirelessly worked for Amazon in Bessemer, Alabama since it opened. Everything hurts and it's permanently changed my life forever, but I stayed because I believe Amazon can be better, and I believe with a union we can build a brighter future for workers across the company."
"I've given my back to Amazon these past three years. I've given my arms and shoulders to Amazon these past three years. And I've given every fiber of my soul into organizing Amazon these past three years," said Bates. "For them to treat me like this is unfathomable."
"But let me be clear, Amazon, your termination of my employment will not stifle workers' organizing, for when you fire leaders, it only brings more people ignited into the movement," she stressed. "We are a movement, we will not be stopped, and I know my union, recognized or not by you, has my back. We will fight this, I will not be silenced, we will not be stopped."
\u201cBREAKING: Jennifer Bates (@Jennife67173021), the lead worker spokeswoman of the @BAmazonUnion drive, received notice she had been terminated by the company amid a several months long workers compensation nightmare. \nFull statement: https://t.co/tom8PZfxmK\u201d— RWDSU (@RWDSU) 1685711494
RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum lamented that "Amazon terminated one of the most public pro-union worker leaders we've seen in a generation over an alleged paperwork issue, for which there is ample documentation."
The issue "can and should be easily resolved by a human," said Appelbaum. "Instead, Jennifer Bates is being subjected to termination by AI due to a glitch in the company's own software."
"Outrageously, Jennifer's is just one example of horror stories burdening thousands of Amazon workers every day," Appelbaum continued. "Workers suffer from life-altering injuries through their work at Amazon, including repetitive motion injuries and 911 emergencies, which send workers to the hospital regularly, some never to return again. Continually nameless faceless HR is either nowhere to be found or excessively difficult to track down."
"Amazon spared no expense in its union-busting throughout the Bessemer campaign, and today is just another in a litany of examples of how this company will stop at nothing to stifle workers' efforts to unionize," the union leader noted. "Amazon blatantly broke the law throughout the campaign, knowing that any potential penalty would be insignificant. Amazon's goal was to prevent—by any means—its employees from having a collective voice through a union in Bessemer."
"Labor law reform is critical if workers are to find any hope," he added. "Amazon's behavior must not be tolerated."
"Amazon spared no expense in its union-busting throughout the Bessemer campaign, and today is just another in a litany of examples of how this company will stop at nothing to stifle workers' efforts to unionize."
In the spring of 2021, RWDSU came up short during its initial organizing drive at Amazon's BHM1 warehouse in Bessemer—the first union election at one of the e-commerce giant's facilities in United States history.
Afterward, the union filed 23 complaints with the NLRB, accusing Amazon of illegally threatening employees with loss of pay and benefits, installing and surveilling an unlawful ballot collection box, and expelling pro-union workers from captive audience meetings during which management argued against collective bargaining.
The NLRB eventually threw out the results of the first election and supervised a new vote in the spring of 2022. The results of the second election were inconclusive. Although there were 118 more votes against unionization than for it, the final outcome hinges on how the director of the NLRB's Region 10 office decides to count 416 challenged ballots.
Following last year's contested vote, RWDSU lodged 21 objections to Amazon's conduct during the election with the NLRB, accusing the company of yet again interfering with the rights of its employees to organize for better conditions without fear of retaliation.
"Workers at Amazon have endured an insanely and needlessly long and aggressive fight to unionize their workplace; with Amazon doing everything it can to spread misinformation and deceive workers," Appelbaum said Friday. "Today’s news is shockingly just another case of Amazon's misconduct in a growing mountain of [unfair labor practices], objections, and charges against Amazon."
"The company violated the law in the first election and did so again in the re-run election, and now is firing union leaders in the facility to all but extinguish any embers of union support in the facility," said Appelbaum.
"We will continue to hold Amazon accountable and ensure workers' voices are heard," the union leader emphasized. "Amazon's behavior must not go unchallenged, and workers in Bessemer, Alabama must have their rights protected under the law. We urge the NLRB to carefully review Jennifer's case, when it's filed, and the countless other issues at hand to ensure no company, not even with the bottomless pockets of Amazon, is allowed to act above the law."
"Today's decision just isn't enough to give our communities a fighting chance against the climate emergency," said one campaigner.
Climate and environmental protection campaigners welcomed an announcement by the Biden administration on Friday that the U.S. Interior Department is blocking new oil and gas leases in the area surrounding Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, but emphasized that the move will not undo the damage done by President Joe Biden's approval of drilling on other public lands or by years of fossil fuel extraction in the region.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced that after a public comment period and decades of campaigning by Indigenous rights groups, her agency will block new oil and gas leasing on public lands within a 10-mile radius of the Chaco Canyon National Historical Park.
Existing oil and gas leases on public and private lands within the 10-mile area will not be affected, and Diné C.A.R.E., a group representing Diné, or Navajo, communities affected by environmental issues, noted that the Greater Chaco Region in northwestern New Mexico is suffering the effects of oil and gas drilling, including the formation of a 2,500-square-mile methane cloud over the area.
"Protection of Chaco Canyon is a great first step, but protections for the Greater Chaco Region, where there are living communities of Diné relatives, wildlife, and plant life, including countless sacred sites throughout the region, are just as critical and should be a priority for the Biden administration," said Robyn Jackson, executive director of Diné C.A.R.E. "We cannot ignore the devastating impacts that oil and gas have on our climate, region, culture, living communities, and future generations."
Jackson called on the Biden administration to entirely phase out fossil fuel extraction, as climate scientists and energy experts have said all countries must in order to avoid planetary heating over 2°C above preindustrial levels, and "support a renewable and sustainable economy."
"We will continue to push for an end to oil and gas drilling on all public land in the U.S. so we may all enjoy a healthy, livable future in which our leaders prioritize environmental justice."
"Our Indigenous communities deserve environmental justice," she said.
The Chaco Canyon National Historical Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and covers roughly 30,000 acres which were integral to Pueblo culture between the ninth and 13th centuries.
The Chaco Canyon Coalition, which includes Indigenous groups and has demanded protections for the park and the surrounding region for years, noted that the Interior Department's own estimates have found the administration's decision will block only a few dozen oil and gas wells, reducing natural gas production in the area by 0.5% and oil production by 2.5%.
"More than 90% of Greater Chaco is already either industrialized by oil and gas extraction or promised to industry for more drilling in the future, even as we recognize this activity's impacts on the area's communities and the climate," said attorney Ally Beasley of the Western Environmental Law Center, a member of the coalition. "We will continue to push for an end to oil and gas drilling on all public land in the U.S. so we may all enjoy a healthy, livable future in which our leaders prioritize environmental justice."
The limited protections for Chaco Canyon are "a welcome first step," said Soni Grant, New Mexico campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity, on Friday. "But the Biden administration needs to follow up by ending all fossil fuel leasing on public lands and phasing out extraction."