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A Whistleblowing Visionary Offers a Ticket to Our Future—If We Take It

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has a reputation for legislative mastery. She frequently uses it on behalf of corporate interests, however, not the invisible workers making less than minimum wage.

Workers protest against the failure from their employers to provide adequate protections in the workplace of the Amazon delivery hub on National May Day Walkout/Sickout by workers at Amazon, Whole Foods, Innstacart and Shipt amid the Covid-19 pandemic on May 1, 2020, in Hawthorne, California. (Photo: Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Workers protest against the failure from their employers to provide adequate protections in the workplace of the Amazon delivery hub on National May Day Walkout/Sickout by workers at Amazon, Whole Foods, Innstacart and Shipt amid the Covid-19 pandemic on May 1, 2020, in Hawthorne, California. (Photo: Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

When senior corporate executives walk off the job because they can’t stomach their companies’ worker rights abuses, we should all pay attention. That’s even more true when those abuses include the suppression of workplace speech addressing public health concerns in the midst of a raging pandemic. The very same issues driving Tim Wray’s departure from Amazon also fuel our campaign to replace Nancy Pelosi as San Francisco’s voice in the House.

Tim is a world-famous software genius who helped invent the modern Internet. He was paid a reported million dollars a year as a Distinguished Engineer at Amazon, yet walked off the job in disgust earlier this month. 

In his blog—a medium which, again, might not even exist without him—Bray said he couldn’t “serve or drink the poison” of the company's culture, and was effectively forced to “quit in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of COVID-19.” He added that he regretted leaving behind the “rewarding fun” of his job along with his sky-high salary. 

Bray stood in solidarity with workers placed at greatest risk—not only by the coronavirus pandemic, but also by corporate corner-cutting. Some folks are lucky enough to have jobs that we can do from home. We remain safely quarantined, while Amazon workers have been picking, packing and delivering everything ordered by those folks working from home—all the while, without paid sick leave, hazard pay, or even proper protective gear. 

One worker, Christian Smalls, tried to organize his colleagues and demand conditions that wouldn’t make them all sick. Amazon retaliated by firing him, and several others—all women and/or people of color, according to Bray. 

Here in the Bay Area, we pat ourselves on the back for our values of equality and fair treatment regardless of race, gender, religion or orientation. But far too many workers remain precarious. And when they speak out about their working conditions, or seek fair wages, they get fired—often with no notice, thanks to “at-will employment” and the nature of the “gig economy.” 

The companies aren’t the only ones taking advantage of workers. 

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has a reputation for legislative mastery. She frequently uses it on behalf of corporate interests, but not the invisible workers making less than minimum wage by driving for Lyft and Uber, shopping for Instacart and Postmates, and delivering packages for Amazon. Their brave organizing in the face of unsafe—and even deadly—treatment seeks common sense policies like paid sick leave, which she has no time for. 

Instead, Pelosi has repeatedly helped megacorporations like Amazon. She supported half a trillion dollars in corporate bailouts, and lavished tax breaks averaging over $1.6 million each to 43,000 of the wealthiest Americans—while including only a pitiful one-time payment of $1,200 for some taxpayers. 

Pelosi claimed she wasn’t able to insert worker protections or higher worker payments into the CARES Act because of the inflexible Unanimous Consent Voice Vote procedure necessitated by the pandemic, but that’s not the real reason she wanted that procedure. According to The Intercept, it’s usually used only for uncontroversial bills, like naming post office buildings. But it also happens to be really good at hiding who voted for what, thus removing any accountability for Pelosi and others. 

As far as the pandemic goes, the Voice Vote could easily have been replaced by proxy voting or electronic voting if Pelosi cared at all about San Francisco’s working class, women, and people of color. But she doesn’t. She proved it again with the recent interim stimulus bill, which according to the Economic Policy Institute once again left out any meaningful protection for workers.

Tim Bray wrote that “A combination of antitrust and living-wage and worker-empowerment legislation, rigorously enforced, offers a clear path forward...Don’t say it can’t be done, because France is doing it.”

It can, indeed, be done. But it can’t be done until we replace Pelosi as San Francisco’s voice in the House.

Shahid Buttar

Shahid Buttar is a civil rights lawyer, grassroots community organizer, and democratic socialist  running for U.S. Congress in CA-12 to unseat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2020. Follow him on Twitter: @ShahidForChange

 

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