Saturday, October 1

US company perks used to mean free snacks. Now it’s access to an abortion – if you’re lucky | Arwa Mahdawi


Not so long ago, shortly before everything went to hell, employers wooed workers with perks such as ping-pong tables and free snacks. Now, in a sign of increasingly dystopian times, they are offering all-expenses-paid abortion trips. In the wake of the US supreme court’s decision on Friday to overturn Roe v Wade, a number of large corporations have announced they will pay for employees located in states that have banned abortion to travel to places where it is still allowed. Disney, Netflix, Goldman Sachs and Meta are just some of the companies that have said their benefits packages will cover this.

I applaud any company that is genuinely trying to do the right thing. But before we all take a moment of silence to appreciate the benevolence of our corporate overlords, it is worth asking what some of the companies who profess to care so much about reproductive rights are up to behind the scenes. The answer, in many cases, is writing fat checks to the politicians and political groups who are responsible for dismantling abortion rights.

Take T-Mobile for example: the company has told its employees it will cover costs for abortions if needed, which is great. Not so great? In 2021, T-Mobile donated $100,000 to a group called the Republican Attorneys General Association (Raga), which played a central role in getting Roe overturned. Awkward! And T-Mobile isn’t the only company that doesn’t seem to be putting its money where its mouth is. journalist Judd Legum has dug into campaign finance data and published a handy list of all the companies that are pro-choice for PR purposes, but who aren’t so public about their donations to Raga. They include Match Group (which operates dating apps such as Tinder), JP Morgan, Uber and Mastercard.

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Why are companies in the US allowed to donate money to politicians, you might ask? It seems just a teeny bit corrupt. In poor countries you might describe this sort of thing as “bribery”. In the US, however, it’s not “bribery” – nothing like it – it’s constitutionally protected free speech. Corporations can pump money into politics thanks to a 2010 precedent set by the supreme court, known as Citizens United. Ah, the good old USA. Where corporations have more constitutional rights than women!

Even if a company hasn’t donated a cent to Republican politicians; even if it is really trying to do the right thing, the fact that employers get any say over whether you are able to access an abortion or not is horrifying. The fact that someone who has made the deeply personal decision to have an abortion may have to share that with their employer is horrifying. Healthcare (and abortion is obviously healthcare) should never be tied to employment. And yet, in the US, it is. The quality of care you get – your ability to access care without draining your bank account – often depends on who you work for and the sort of coverage they provide.

Being able to control healthcare gives corporations a lot of power – something they are well aware of that. Last year, a number of Kellogg’s workers went on strike to protest against unfair working conditions. One of the first things management did was cut off their healthcare; striking workers had to pay up to $2,980 in Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (Cobra) payments. (Cobra gives you the right to continue with your employer’s health plan after you are fired; you just need to pay a ridiculous amount of money for the privilege.) Now it looks suspiciously as if companies might start using access to abortion as a way to get their employees to step in line. Starbucks, for example, has said that it will reimburse abortion travel expenses under its healthcare plan but noted that it cannot “make promises of guarantees about any benefits” for unionized stores. Better not unionize if you don’t want to be forced to give birth!

So that’s where we are in the richest country on Earth: human rights being doled out by HR departments. Civil rights downgraded to corporate perks.




www.theguardian.com

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