Entertainment

Sean Penn is hit with labor complaint after telling nonprofit workers not to speak about conditions


A federal labor agency has issued a formal complaint against Sean Penn’s disaster relief group after the actor accused employees who spoke out about long hours and poor meal options of ‘broad betrayal’ and encouraged them to quit.

The National Labor Relations Board issued the complaint on October 25, almost nine months after a lawyer pointed the agency to a blistering letter Penn sent his workers.

In January, two people claiming to work for the Community Organized Relief Effort, or CORE, challenged the company line in the comments section of a New York Times article about a vaccination drive at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles.

One of the alleged workers – whose identities have not been verified – complained about 18-hour work days and a lack of restrooms, prompting Penn to hit back: ‘Any of us who might find themselves predisposed to a culture of complaint, have a much simpler avenue than broad-based cyber whining. It’s called quitting.’

A lawyer for CORE says the NLRB complaint has an ‘utter lack of legal merit.’ 

The agency began in 2010 to help victims of an earthquake in Haiti and now calls itself a ‘crisis response organization’ that helps ‘underserved communities’ across the globe.

CORE was tipped off in February by labor lawyer Daniel B. Rojas, who called Penn’s attempt to stifle dissent ‘unlawful.’ An administrative hearing is set for January.

The nonprofit CORE is being charged with making ‘coercive statements’ to employees. Above, founder Sean Penn and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti during a vaccination drive in January

The actor, 61, told employees to quit rather than complain openly and charged some with 'broad betrayal' for speaking out about long work hours and lack of food and restrooms

The actor, 61, told employees to quit rather than complain openly and charged some with ‘broad betrayal’ for speaking out about long work hours and lack of food and restrooms

People claiming to be employees commented under a New York Times story, complaining about four or five hour waits and other issues

People claiming to be employees commented under a New York Times story, complaining about four or five hour waits and other issues

The fallout began with the vaccination event at Dodger Stadium led by the Los Angeles Fire Department with assistance from CORE, which was founded by Penn, 61.

A January 28 New York Times article described a bustling scene as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti helped manage long lines, where people waited as long as four or five hours for their first COVID-19 shot.  

The story claimed ‘there is Krispy Kreme for breakfast and Subway for lunch.’

But a comment by ‘staff #2’ took issue with the claim.

‘We do NOT get krispy kreme for breakfast. In fact, we usually DON’T get breakfast, just coffee. And the lunch is NOT subway. It’s the same old lettuce wraps every day. It’s free lunch for staff/volunteers so I’m not complaining but still… not subway,’ the person wrote.

Another comment written by ‘CORE staff’ complained about working ’18 hour days, 6 days a week’ without any backup.

The first comment, written by 'staff #2', took issue with workers being given the 'same old lettuce wraps' for lunch every day

The first comment, written by ‘staff #2’, took issue with workers being given the ‘same old lettuce wraps’ for lunch every day

The second comment, written by 'CORE staff', contained complaints about working '18 hour days, 6 days a week' without any backup

The second comment, written by ‘CORE staff’, contained complaints about working ’18 hour days, 6 days a week’ without any backup

‘It exists because the mayor ordered that we transition from a test site to a vaccination site in less than a week. If we had more time to transition, we wouldn’t have staff working these hours without the opportunity to take breaks – they are schedulers and are essential to the function of the site.

‘Without them, we wouldn’t be vaccinating. The mayor more or less ordered an OSHA violation. There is a shipping container on site that is a designated space for overworked staff to go cry in. If you’re not let into this shipping container, it’s because staff are crying inside. Garcetti created these conditions and looks like a hero for it.’

The NYT article said staff and volunteers doled out 7,730 doses in nearly 15 hours.

The NLRB was tipped off by Los Angeles-based labor layer Daniel B. Rojas, who called Penn's follow-up statements 'unlawful'

The NLRB was tipped off by Los Angeles-based labor layer Daniel B. Rojas, who called Penn’s follow-up statements ‘unlawful’

Penn shot back in a lengthy email to staff the very next day, which was soon leaked to the media.

‘The responsibility for any additional work hours requested of CORE staff falls squarely at my feet, and not because I “ordered” it,’ Penn wrote, rebutting charges that Mayor Garcetti had anything to do with the site’s rapid transition from testing to vaccinations.

‘But because we in CORE leadership asked it of you, our extraordinary staff and volunteers. And guess what? You rose up. You did. Not me. All of you.’

He continued: ‘To whoever authored these, understand that in every cell of my body is a vitriol for the way your actions reflect so harmfully upon your brothers and sisters in arms.

‘I have taken counsel and here will refrain from using the words with which I would otherwise choose to describe the character of your actions.’

Penn warned against ‘obscene critiques’ and encouraged employees to deal with their concerns within the organization.

The actor harped on the work he had taken on during the pandemic and in other crises, saying: ‘I awaken pre-dawn and pass out post-midnight every morning and every night, pulling my hair and pounding pavement.’

Penn accused employees who spoke out in a New York Times comments section of 'broad-based cyber whining.' His org is now being charged with coercive statements by the NLRB

Penn accused employees who spoke out in a New York Times comments section of ‘broad-based cyber whining.’ His org is now being charged with coercive statements by the NLRB

Labor attorney Daniel B. Rojas read the letter after it was published and routed it to the NLRB for investigation, according to the Los Angeles Times, which first published Penn’s letter.

‘When I read Mr. Penn’s letter, I flagged the contents as unlawful and became upset about the notion that, due to the impetuous conduct of an ultra-wealthy man, hundreds of young people in LA would be coerced into believing that discussing wages or working conditions with third parties is incompatible with continued employment in the nonprofit sector,’ he told the newspaper.  

The NLRB decided that Rojas’ charge merited a formal complaint, which was issued last Monday.

The complaint, which is not publicly available, is based on a charge of ‘Coercive Statements (Threats, Promises of Benefits, etc.)’

An attorney for Penn and CORE maintains that the charge has no basis and that Penn’s email was simply a ‘rallying cry.’

January's vaccine drive at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles was led by the LA Fire Department in partnership with CORE, Penn's nonprofit founded after the 2010 Haiti earthquakes

January’s vaccine drive at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles was led by the LA Fire Department in partnership with CORE, Penn’s nonprofit founded after the 2010 Haiti earthquakes

Staff and volunteers reportedly doled out 7,730 doses in nearly 15 hours one day

Staff and volunteers reportedly doled out 7,730 doses in nearly 15 hours one day

‘Despite its utter lack of legal merit, the NLRB’s General Counsel and Regional Director have decided to waste federal resources and taxpayer dollars by filing an ill‐advised and meritless lawsuit, even as CORE continues its groundbreaking work,’ lawyer Mathew S. Rosengart said in a statement.

‘The NLRB’s actions to distract CORE from its crucial mission for a case where no employees were harmed, are shameful.’ 

Rosengart said that CORE rejected an offer to settle the complaint without payment. 

A NLRB spokeswoman told DailyMail.com that the agency typically seeks a settlement before issuing a complaint. 

The agency recently issued new guidance for settlements. They call for employers to provide affected workers with backpay as well as costs incurred due to harmful practices, such as health insurance coverage; medical, legal or moving expenses; detrimental effects to credit ratings; liquidating a bank account to cover living expenses; and new training or coursework.

CORE describes itself as ‘driven by a focus on equity, locally hired staff, and an investment that starts from within the community and adapts to its dynamic needs,’ according to its website. 

Penn has been accused of physical and domestic assault multiple times throughout his career

Penn has been accused of physical and domestic assault multiple times throughout his career 

Penn, its founder, has been accused of physical and domestic assault multiple times throughout his career. 

In 2015, Madonna denied claims that he had struck her with a baseball bat during the course of their marriage in the 1980s, according to The Guardian.

In 1986, he was allegedly arrested and charged with attempted murder after dangling a photographer over a ninth-floor hotel balcony in the Chinese city of Macau during the filming of Shanghai Surprise, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. 

He eventually broke out of jail and escaped to Hong Kong.

The Los Angeles-based nonprofit relies on government and charitable contributions, such as a $30 million gift from Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, donated last year to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, according to Fox News.

Rosengart called Penn’s statements a ‘rallying cry to CORE’s employees, profusely thanking them and expressing great pride for their hard work and lifesaving, emergency services.’

The NLRB’s general counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, told the New York Times: ‘Although CORE engages in important and admirable work, like all employers, it must respect the right of its employees under the National Labor Relations Act to engage in protected concerted activities, such as discussing matters of mutual concern with one another and bringing workplace concerns to the public, federal agencies, or other third parties.’



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