Cultural centers

How a Seattle Company is Fighting Red State Cultural Repression

When Dan Shapiro first decided to take his Seattle business from all-local to remote, it didn’t occur to him that he would then become a gatekeeper between conflicting worlds.

But increasingly, as his tech company Pioneer Square has taken on employees who live across the country, including in red states like Texas and Oklahoma, the political crisis in the United States has been thrown at his feet. knees.

“For some reason, the two most important people in healthcare right now are your company’s CEO and Samuel Alito,” Shapiro told me the other day. “That’s where we are.”

Shapiro runs Glowforge, a 200-employee company that makes 3D printers. He was reading the news earlier this year when he learned that the health benefits package he had promised his employees included a range of things, such as abortion and gender-affirming medical care, that some states prohibit. or attempt to criminalize. .

This meant that the MAGA policy was not limited to the MAGA world alone.

“I promised my employees health benefits that states like Texas and Oklahoma make illegal,” Shapiro said. “It was kind of a ‘sit like a straight bolt’ moment.”

It may be 2022 and we may be in a technological revolution that allows workers to teleport from anywhere. But the retrograde political reality is that companies now have employees who may need to be “brought to safety,” as Shapiro put it, to get the promised care.

I’m highlighting Shapiro here because he talks about it. It’s a weird trait of America that health insurance is mostly provided by employers. But that means the political events of the past few months, culminating in the news that the US Supreme Court is set to overturn the constitutional right to abortion, are squarely within the purview of corporate CEOs. Whether they like it or not.

This makes their general silence on this vital issue of health care and women’s rights a travesty.

“Corporate America doesn’t want to talk about abortion, but they may have to,” read an article in The New York Times last week, about all the ways most corporations dodge the topic.

Shapiro, to his credit, went public early, in mid-April, with a comment on Seattle tech site GeekWire: “Why this Seattle startup had to play with Texas over healthcare.”

“We promised [our employees] fair and just health care,” he wrote. “We can’t let state borders, arrogant politicians or the cost of airfare get in the way of that promise.”

He unveiled a plan to pay travel expenses so that any of his workers, or their family members, could get covered medical treatments that had been banned in their state. He also offered up to $25,000 to cover moving costs if they had to move for treatment. The $25,000 benefit is a lifetime maximum.

Some other companies have announced that they will also take their employees out of red states for reproductive care. Most notably, Amazon said Monday it would cover up to $4,000 in travel costs for abortions if treatment isn’t available within 100 miles of a worker’s home.

Shapiro urged other business leaders to “copy our homework.” Contact him, he said, and he would share the details of setting up a benefits plan to circumvent the Red State crackdown.

“I’ve heard of 30 companies that together represent hundreds of thousands of employees,” he said. “It’s a growing movement. It will take off.

Of course, there is a countermovement. It appeared to conservative lawmakers that if a pill can be mailed to women for abortion services, or if women themselves can drive or fly to a blue state, then punishing doctors won’t be enough. or local clinics. So they go after women directly.

That’s why Louisiana is the first to come out with a bill that would allow women to be charged with murder for having abortions — or even for using emergency contraception.

Shapiro said it was surreal to develop a policy to potentially evacuate his employees from their own states. It is also classic America that we have left to companies to solve this problem. Whatever sorting they propose, no matter how well intentioned, excludes millions of poor women who may lack employment or insurance.

“The insurance companies haven’t caught up, the medical system, the policymakers,” Shapiro said. “I could sit here and complain that I’m supposed to spend my time making 3D laser printers, not looking at out-of-network health travel reimbursement rates. But that’s the world we’re in now.

Amazing how far and how fast we fell. Just a few years ago we were discussing how to achieve universal health care. Now that’s how to get patients across state lines.

It’s easy to see how this tragic nonsense will exacerbate the blue/red divide. Companies with liberal health policies will only locate in blue states or favor hiring workers only in blue states. The more Christian businesses will cluster in the red states. As I suggested of neighbors Idaho and Washington, we divide ourselves — culturally, legally, medically, financially — into “two different countries claiming the same territory.”

Or: Companies could vociferously oppose this reactionary turn. All of this will be a colossal waste of their human and financial resources. They could speak the only language politicians are sure to hear, the sound of money. Especially the sound of money leaving.

I hate to conclude with this, because it goes against what we are supposed to believe about our supposedly people-powered democracy. But: Maybe only corporations can save us now?