By Guest Contributor: Anonymous
For recent college graduates with a passion for social justice, non-profit civil rights organizations make a compelling offer: work for us, make the world a better place, and receive a salary and an office in the bustling heart of downtown Washington, D.C. What better way to apply your bachelor’s degree in sociology and political science than to spend a year working to advance Asian American civil rights in our nation’s capital?
The pitfalls of non-profit work are, of course, well known. Non-profit employees — typically the young and idealistic — are expected to compromise themselves to benefit the ‘greater good’. They are asked to accept poorer salary and workplace mistreatment, and are warned that to do otherwise indicates insufficient commitment to the cause. At some prominent civil rights organizations in the Capital, problems run even deeper than that.
Two weeks ago, former employees and interns of OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates (OCA) sent an open letter to the organization’s leadership that brought to light a variety of grievances ranging from mismanagement of sexual harassment to wage theft. The letter was signed by over 200 former employees and community members. OCA, a national membership-based civil rights organization dedicated to advancing the interests and well-being of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), has seen near-complete staff turnover during the past three years. This extreme rate of attrition is the direct result of the complaints listed in the aforementioned letter. They are summarized below:
At least two staff members report OCA’s gross mismanagement of sexual harassment and gender-based grievances. These include the absence of a formal human resources department or processes to handle these complaints, which include senior staff repeatedly misgendering staff despite attempts to correct that behavior. Staff have tried on multiple occasions to resolve these issues through proper channels, but to no avail.
On top of the staff’s already low pay ($35,568 starting salary in D.C., thousands of dollars less than peers at other organizations), one staff member reports never receiving the full salary promised upon their hiring.
Staff have also identified concerns with the organization’s influence by corporate donors, of which many are large telecoms service providers. Policy department staff report being asked to publish multiple blog posts under OCA’s name that were actually written by companies like AT&T and Charter. These blog posts — one of which you can read here — are clearly written in support of policies preferred by these companies, and do not necessarily fall in line with the priorities of AAPIs or OCA. The linked article even opens with the self-aware line: “at first glance, rural broadband and 5G deployment may not seem like top issues for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.”
These concerns – which contributed to OCA’s alarming staff turnover in the past few years — are not new. In a blog post written shortly after their termination, a group of 2013 OCA interns described how a video shared privately on social media directly led to their abrupt firing in the middle of OCA’s convention. The interns criticized Wal-Mart’s labor practices in the video, raising middle fingers to the multibillion dollar retail giant for “sweatshop labor” and “anti-union behavior.” Wal-Mart remains a major donor to OCA to this day.
One day after the open letter was published, OCA’s Executive Council issued a statement giving assurances that it would work with remaining staff to “investigate what was addressed in the open letter thoroughly” by creating an internal task force. This task force has not yet gotten off the ground, and hasn’t yet reached out to staff involved in the letter. It is unclear what concrete actions the Executive Council will take.
To that end, former OCA staff and interns continue to demand a better starting wage and workplace environment, the implementation of clear boundaries with its corporate sponsors, and an overhaul of its policy priorities to center the most marginalized members of the AAPI community.
To support this effort, we ask that you consider sharing our open letter to OCA using this link: https://tinyurl.com/letter2oca.
Anonymous formerly worked at OCA and contributed to the open letter demanding accountability for its labor practices, handling of sexual harassment and misgendering, and influence from corporate donors. They chose to remain anonymous in case of backlash by OCA or other mentioned parties.
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