Thursday, March 5, 2020
Was Worker Safety Advocate Pressured by ABA to Withdraw from Conference Panel After Releasing Report Critical of Amazon?
The story, authored by Eli Rosenberg, ran in yesterday's Washington Post:
A workers advocate faced pressure to withdraw from an American Bar Association conference panel on worker safety in the weeks after she helped author a report critical of Amazon, a sponsor of the conference, according to emails obtained by The Washington Post.
Debbie Berkowitz, a former federal regulator who now works for the National Employment Law Project, received an email in early December from Jonathan D. Karmel, a labor lawyer who is co-chair of the ABA’s Occupational Safety and Health Law Committee, asking whether she would serve on the panel to balance the views of another speaker, Heather MacDougall, who is Amazon’s vice president of worldwide employee health and safety. Berkowitz was listed on a draft of panelists, and she was told the ABA could pay for her hotel.
Within a few weeks, she learned her appearance was drawing opposition from others involved in the conference. In an interview, Berkowitz said Karmel told her that one of his co-chairs was concerned her appearance could upset Amazon. The emails obtained by The Post identify the objecting co-chair as Steven R. McCown, a corporate lawyer. The emails show that organizers were discussing whether they should run concerns about Berkowitz by MacDougall.
Facing McCown’s opposition, Berkowitz was asked whether she wanted to switch panels, and she declined. Feeling she was under pressure, Berkowitz withdrew altogether, she said.
The rest of the story is here.
As someone who is perpetually and reflexively hostile to Amazon (and to anyone else I believe intends to harm workers as a matter of course), I would count it as a badge of honor to be disinvited to corporate programs masquerading as open discussion. I'm scheduled to appear at an ABA workers' compensation event in New Orleans at the end of this month. I doubt that I'm important enough to generate opposition from powerful interests, but perhaps I should have considered refundable tickets since I have a habit of speaking my mind.
Michael C. Duff