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Workers at Netflix are expected to stage a walkout today. It's the culmination of weeks of internal backlash the streaming company has faced from its transgender and non-binary employees over comedian Dave Chappelle's latest special, "The Closer." Last week, Netflix fired an unnamed employee who had helped organize today's walkout, saying they leaked internal data to an outside source. NPR's Andrew Limbong caught up with that employee, who says they were not the leaker.
ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: The employee resource group at Netflix representing transgender and non-binary workers sent a list of demands to the company. And nowhere does it mention Dave Chappelle, his latest special or pulling anything off of the platform. Instead, the only Netflix property mentioned is the documentary "Disclosure" about the history of trans representation in media, featuring transgender writers, producers and actors, such as Angelica Ross.
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ANGELICA ROSS: You see a fierceness that's coming from the girls that are coming up now. That's because we understand we ain't got nothing to lose. I already done lost that job. I done lost that job.
LIMBONG: Because the walkout later today is about having more - more representation among the higher-ups, more warnings, especially for transphobic content, and of course, more TV shows and movies featuring transgender and non-binary people. Here's former Netflix employee B. Pagels-Minor, one of the walkout organizers.
B PAGELS-MINOR: When Netflix talks about entertaining the world, when Netflix talks about creative freedom, when Netflix talks about the cultural values of the company, if you actually apply that rubric equally to all groups, you would suspect that there would be more representation across different content types of different groups.
LIMBONG: They started at Netflix as a senior data product manager for membership and finance engineering before moving on to work at the company's game launch department. Pagels-Minor also co-led the employee resource group for trans workers and was a member of one for Black employees. Netflix fired them on Thursday, alleging they leaked sensitive internal information outside the company - you know, how much was spent on the Chappelle special versus others, as well as various performance metrics. Netflix is notoriously tight-lipped about this sort of stuff.
PAGELS-MINOR: I did collect the data. But I did not leak the data.
LIMBONG: They add that they weren't given an opportunity to prove their case.
PAGELS-MINOR: It was just kind of like, hey, you're the person. You're gone.
LIMBONG: In a statement, a Netflix spokesperson said Pagels-Minor's claims aren't supported by the facts and that they wiped their device, quote, "making any further investigation impossible." Pagels-Minor says there was never any investigation to begin with. But beyond the back-and-forth, actions like the walkout at Netflix later today are a part of a growing trend of white-collar workers in tech speaking up about the direction of their companies, says Alan Hyde, professor of labor and employment law at Rutgers.
ALAN HYDE: They want to have a say in the kinds of business their company does, the kind of workplace culture they have, who the clients are. So these have been important demands in motivating worker unrest over the years.
LIMBONG: Hyde says we've seen this movie before. Employees make a lot of noise about something. Maybe the big companies change a thing or two, offer up an apology. And then everything calms down back to normal. But in the context of this year...
HYDE: With 10,000 John Deere workers out on strike, with bakery workers and all - this tremendous upsurge in strike activity this year, I'm less positive that we've seen this movie before.
LIMBONG: It's a tricky time to be a big company juggling internal pressures along with public outcries. But it's possibly an even trickier time being an employee putting your job on the line to change the culture at a company you really believe in.
Andrew Limbong, NPR News.
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