Abcarian: As an employer, Sean Penn’s emotional explosion was stupid, but NLRB’s response is dumber


Oh dear. I find it distressing to agree with an editorial from the Wall Street Journal, a group whose pro-business, anti-tax opinion shop usually leaves me sick of my heart.

However, the other day, in its quintessentially ironic fashion, the Journal’s editorial board offered their condolences to actor and social activist Sean Penn, who found himself in a tight spot with the National Labor Relations Board.

The NLRB, writes the Journal, “appears to be unfairly targeting the Hollywood admirer of Hugo Chavez for exercising his First Amendment speech rights.”

I am okay.

Penn, as you may know, is the president and co-founder of Community Organized Relief Effort, or CORE, which hired hundreds of workers to help with the month-long COVID-19 vaccination clinic. at Dodger Stadium. CORE, a non-profit organization, was founded in 2010 to assist earthquake victims in Haiti and has expanded its mission. Penn does not take any wages, according to the tax returns.

The NLRB is investigating whether Penn threatened his employees after he wrote an angry internal email in January in response to an anonymous and moderate criticism of working conditions at Dodger Stadium in the comments section of a laudatory New York article Times on the vaccination effort at the site. .

Two anonymous comments triggered it. One disputed a line in the New York Times article that said workers were getting Krispy Kreme donuts for breakfast and Subway sandwiches for lunch. (“We do NOT have Krispy Kreme for breakfast. In fact, we usually do NOT have breakfast, just coffee. And lunch is NOT Subway. They are the same old lettuce wraps all over the place. days. “I thought this was a tiresome example of millennial whiner, but the commentator added,” It’s free lunch… so I’m not complaining. “)

The second, however, accused CORE of breaking the rules of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration because some staff worked 18 hours a day, six days a week.

Penn responded with a vehement 2,200 word email to all CORE staff.

“I am addressing each of you directly to express serious concern,” the actor wrote. “As a disaster response organization, each of our first responsibilities to ourselves must accept that our work can never be compared like apples to oranges in other workplaces. “

This is perhaps a curse of the most selfish profession in the world: no matter how rich and famous you are, no matter how much praise you receive for the many good deeds you do, even the pinprick. the most insignificant will pierce your thin and thin skin. and hurt yourself to the, ah, core.

But then Penn seemed to go a little too far.

“All of us who might find ourselves predisposed to a culture of complaint, have a much simpler path than the widespread cyber whines,” he wrote. “It’s called quitting smoking. Leave for CORE. Resign for your colleagues who will not resign. Resign for your fellows who deeply recognize that it is a moment in time.

The overheated rhetoric begs questions: Is it simply the ramblings of a narcissistic and overly emotional boss, or a threat to low-level employees by a powerful and wealthy employer? And – sorry, I can’t help it – why is Penn such a bad writer?

Los Angeles labor attorney Daniel B. Rojas saw Penn’s email and thought it was flagrant enough that he forwarded it to the NLRB, who filed a formal complaint alleging intimidation of workers.

A hearing before an administrative judge in Los Angeles is scheduled for January, reports my colleague Hayley Smith.

All the kerfuffle is a waste of time. Besides the problematic record keeping of Los Angeles firefighters who received an overtime windfall, Dodger Stadium’s effort was magnificent, at one point vaccinating 12,000 people a day.

A dear friend of mine, a woman with two grown children, spent months working for CORE at the stadium. We have often spoken of his work. I cannot identify her as she signed a non-disclosure agreement as a condition of employment. (She specifically remembers a clause about not discussing Penn or his family.)

She was making $ 20 an hour and $ 30 an hour overtime. Overtime, or “double,” she told me, was coveted and positions filled quickly. All staff were offered health insurance.

Every day, she said, free food and drinks poured in, including plenty of hot items – shepherd’s pie, chicken parmesan – prepared by World Central Kitchen, chef José Andrés’ charity.

“The goodies were going to show up,” she said. “A truckload of plant-based vegan burgers has arrived. Or, suddenly, there would be Krispy Kreme or Dunkin ‘Donuts. Sometimes pastries. There were almost always granola bars.

She met and befriended many young people, most of whom were grateful for the work. “But there were some I would consider entitled to, complaining about the free food. I’m like, “If you don’t like it, bring your own lunch, kids!” “

When it rained, she said, CORE offered umbrellas and waterproof clothing, and when it was unbearably cold, as it was on many winter mornings, CORE gave out heated vests and offered large tents for warming up. “As soon as people said they were freezing,” she said, “they would take us to the tents.”

“The work itself was not difficult,” she said. She moved cones and waved cars in the traffic lanes. She filled out COVID-19 vaccination cards and screened people with allergies. She accompanied people to the bathroom and monitored new vaccines to make sure they had no side effects. Sometimes her wonderful people skills were put into action. “Sometimes,” she said, “we have had to deal with angry people because of the very long wait times.”

She took the job to make a difference at a time when so many felt helpless in the face of a brutal pandemic.

“We felt we were saving lives,” she said. “It was a lovely and compassionate time, and a ton of us felt we were there to help our fellow Angelenos, who were super grateful. I was there for the mission.

Eventually, she left Dodger Stadium and joined a team of CORE employees who toured the city as part of the Disabled and Homebound Population Project, knocking on doors to offer vaccines to people who couldn’t make it to the sites. vaccination. Every day was full of drama and boredom; she saw a man angrily shoot a gun in the air and often returned home devastated by the poverty and loneliness she witnessed. She rescued a mangy kitten and nursed him back to health.

When some of the young people she worked with complained about the monotony of the $ 10 Starbucks or Ralphs gift cards they were given for lunch each day, CORE accommodated them by putting in a $ 10 per diem instead. in their paychecks.

Come on, NLRB, don’t you have better things to do with your time?


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