Before SHINE Medical Technologies CEO Greg Piefer hit the “send” button on a set of Twitter and Facebook posts earlier this month, he said he thought long and hard about the message.
It was in the days after the police-involved killing of George Floyd, as civil unrest played out in the streets of cities across the country.
The leader of the Janesville nuclear medicine technology startup was thinking about his 119 employees and the company’s own attempts to seed diversity and equity within the walls of its corporate offices.
Piefer decided he and SHINE should speak out about what he calls a “systemic and long-term problem” of racism and bias. He intended for his words to reach not just his employees, but the greater community outside SHINE’s downtown headquarters.
Alongside his portrait and SHINE’s corporate logo, Piefer wrote this message and posted it on social media:
“Black lives matter. The need to speak out against racism, racial injustice and inherent bias compels each of us as leaders in our community to act. Not just in the short term in response to tragic events, but for permanent and lasting change.”
That was just a fraction of Piefer’s statement.
In the statement, Piefer said SHINE plans to offer its employees paid time off if they want to get involved in social justice events, including public speaking or peaceful demonstrations. That’s alongside other plans to try to bolster racial inclusion and diversity at SHINE and in Janesville.
In the wake of Floyd’s death, CEOs of dozens of Fortune 500 companies have issued executive statements that denounce racism and police brutality and support social justice. Last week, NASCAR ended the display of Confederate flags at races, and Boston’s mayor declared racism a “public health crisis.”
But SHINE is possibly the first local private company to release a statement on racism and racial bias.
The company is knee deep in building a multimillion-dollar medical molybdenum-99 production facility in Janesville, but it also plans to launch a $5,000 annual fund that Piefer said would help local organizations promote inclusion and social justice programs.
Piefer’s statement was directed to his employees, but he placed it in the public sphere by posting it on social media and the company’s website.
Piefer said he’s not sure if other Janesville companies plan to share their stances on racism, bias and diversity, but he hopes SHINE’s stepping forward might lead other local companies to take a stand, too.
“I think what happens all too often in this country is people react in some way to an event like this. And the reaction in some way heals them and makes them feel better. But then they move on. I wanted to do something lasting,” Piefer said.
“So I had started to think about what SHINE could do, and what policies we could implement to make a difference here in Janesville, in SHINE, and maybe be a symbol for other companies around the area and maybe beyond.”
Piefer’s statement includes a glimpse into SHINE’s latest diversity and inclusion report, offering rare insight into the internal policies and philosophies of a local company.
Overall, people of color make up 9% of SHINE’s workforce and hold about 5% of leadership positions, according to the report.
Piefer said even if his workforce skews more diverse than other local companies, he believes it is still a “very racially homogeneous” workplace.
“I can say within our industry that we are more diverse,” he said. “I can also say we’re not done. We’re not as diverse as we should be, so we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
SHINE already had a diversity and inclusion panel of 11 employees prior to the recent civil unrest, Piefer said. Among other initiatives, the panel has worked on a “blind resume screening” system in which applications for job openings—including nuclear engineering—are stripped of names and other possible identifiers of applicants’ ethnicity, race or gender.
Piefer said that’s one way the company seeks to stem inherent biases in the hiring process.
He said major investors have signaled that companies must become more attuned to diversity—not just in hiring but also in forming programs that help minority hires feel more included.
Still, Piefer said he’s found it relatively rare for local business leaders to have even casual conversations about race and diversity.
“It hasn’t been a topic I’ve run into very much, and it’s something that probably should be (talked about more),” he said. “But it’s a topic that makes a lot of people uncomfortable to talk about. A lot of times, emotions run high very quickly, and I think that’s what creates that discomfort.”
Marc Perry, the executive director of nonprofit Community Action who has led local diversity efforts, said it’s significant for a local company to not only speak out about racism and social justice, but also share its own plans to bolster diversity and inclusion.
Perry hopes SHINE won’t be the only local company to take a public stand.
“If it’s the case that it’s just one company talking, that’s unfortunate,” Perry said. “Because you would think promoting inclusion and talking openly about promoting diversity within your company would be something positive. I think it still speaks to the local and the national climate on some level that some organizations might be reluctant to speak out this way.”
Piefer said SHINE’s diversity policies are intended to give it the best chance of hiring the most talented nuclear medicine experts. But his recent statement on racism, he thinks, simply was a responsible effort to address ongoing racial inequality.
“There’s always that little thought of, ‘Boy, did I really think about everything I put in there? And could it be taken the wrong way?’” Piefer said. “But it was just … it’s far more important to speak out here than to not say anything, in my view. So we decided to do it.”
Van Galder buses will hit the road this week as the company resumes some busing routes it had suspended when COVID-19 shutdowns halted the economy and travel.
The Janesville charter bus company announced it plans by Monday to rekindle routes out of Janesville to Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
The move comes as Van Galder’s own research shows recent upticks in airline travel and increased demand by bus riders.
Yet even as state governments lift COVID-19 restrictions and travel increases, Van Galder President Al Fugate said it likely will be months before the company regains some of the momentum it had prior to the pandemic.
In early April, Van Galder shut down all of its routes for the first time in its 70-year history and furloughed 277 of its approximately 300 workers, including all of its 139 charter bus drivers.
At the time, the company told state officials that the layoffs were tied to statewide and nationwide shutdowns and restrictions that had marooned the travel industry. Travel analysts reported that domestic and international airline travel was down 75 to 80% through April because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Van Galder plans to resume a limited number of daily bus routes to O’Hare out of Janesville, Beloit and Rockford, Illinois. That will put about 10 of the company’s charter bus drivers back on the road.
Fugate said there’s been a lot of news about the pandemic’s affect on the travel and tourism industry but a shortage of information on how the recovery is going as people begin to travel more.
He said the company used “old-fashioned” data-gathering methods, such as analyzing phone inquiries for bus service and federal data that showed an increase in flights from airports such as O’Hare, to gauge whether demand was high enough.
“We could see that we were coming off the bottom because there was starting to be a trend line of more and more people traveling,” Fugate said. “I say more and more like it’s a big amount. It’s still not a big amount, but we could at least follow a trend line that’s on an upswing.”
Later this summer, the company aims to resume other regional routes, including transport from Madison to Chicago, and newer routes to downtown Chicago and Amtrak.
Those routes might start up after the Fourth of July, Fugate said, although he said Van Galder will continue to monitor trends and demand before adding routes.
“We rely solely on the fare box, solely on the ridership. We don’t have any government subsidy, any kind of outside funding for our service. The risk is all on us,” Fugate said. “We have to know there’s an adequate number of people needing to take the bus before we go out and just start blowing fuel out the tailpipe with no way to recover our costs. We have to be a little cautious to begin with.”
Fugate said the company will operate under public health advice issued last week under Rock County’s phase two reopening guidelines.
“We’ll run at 50% capacity” for ridership, he said. “Demand-wise, I don’t think that’ll be an issue for a little while here for us. We’ll add additional equipment and drivers and schedules as the demand is there.”
Darrell H. Block
Ardyth Elaine “Herman” Halverson
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Elaine M. Ingold
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Mabel “Linda” Phillips
Robert Roherty Jr.
Thomas R. Upham
Against the backdrop of another black man’s death at the hands of a white police officer, this time in Atlanta, Republican allies of President Trump clashed Sunday with Democratic lawmakers over police reform legislation expected to be a focal point this week in both the House and the Senate.
Nearly three weeks after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, which galvanized the most widespread and sustained racial justice protests the United States has seen in a generation, House Democrats are calling for a ban on police chokeholds, an end to no-knock warrants and a new national police misconduct registry, among other steps.
A midweek hearing is set in the House on the Democratic plan. On the Senate side, the chamber’s only black Republican, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, plans to unveil a measure this week.
Trump, who turned 74 on Sunday, has often appeared out of step with public sentiment, with opinion polls suggesting broad support for the protests’ aims of redressing systemic racism in policing.
As marches and rallies spread from coast to coast and beyond the U.S., critics accused the president of stoking tensions with inflammatory tweets and statements, including his threat earlier this month to send in active-duty military troops to American cities.
Even so, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, the only Black member ever to serve in Trump’s Cabinet, said Sunday he expected the president would “look at everything” in terms of legislation meant to curb police abuses.
“We need to look at appropriate reforms, and this is probably a good time to shine the spotlight on it and get it done,” Carson said. But he added: “Obviously we do not want to create a situation where the police are under the microscope.”
Democrats clearly hoped to build on an outpouring of sentiment in favor of greater accountability for police abuses—especially after recent weeks yielded a number of viral videos of heavy-handed actions by officers during peaceful protests.
“We are in a nation right now where the sense of what’s possible has shifted,” said Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. Interviewed on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” he said this was not the time for “lowest-common-denominator, watered-down reforms.”
“It’s a time to stop the problem because if someone’s knee is on your neck, you can’t take it halfway off and say that that’s progress,” said Booker, a former mayor of Newark who sought the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
While the protests’ overall peak appeared to have passed, weekend unrest flared in Atlanta after police on Friday night shot and killed 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks. The police chief, Erika Shields, resigned the next day, and on Sunday, authorities announced the firing of one police officer involved, Garrett Rolfe, and a second officer being placed on administrative duty in connection with the episode.
Several lawmakers said circumstances surrounding Brooks’ death appeared murkier than did Floyd’s case. A Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, faces second-degree murder charges after video from the scene showed him pressing his knee to the handcuffed man’s neck for nearly nine minutes, while Floyd repeatedly called out that he could not breathe.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Brooks failed a sobriety test after police responded to a call about a man sleeping in a parked vehicle in the drive-thru lane of a Wendy’s restaurant. The agency said in a statement that Brooks struggled with officers and grabbed a stun gun and that cellphone video appeared to show him aiming the stun gun in officers’ direction after attempting to flee.
Asked whether police had used excessive force, Scott, appearing on CBS, said, “one of the challenges that we have in a split-second decision is the need for more training.”
“I think it’s really difficult to establish a codified-in-law standard for use of force—there’s millions of scenarios that play out,” he said in a separate interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
But Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., said he was “incensed” by the killing. Clyburn, the 79-year-old House majority whip who is black, said that even at his age and as a member of the House, he is sometimes afraid that an encounter with law enforcement could result in death or injury.
“I didn’t grow up in fear of police, even in a segregated environment. We never feared the police. But, all of a sudden now, I do fear the police. The young blacks fear the police,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” He blamed “a structure that has been developed that we have got to deconstruct.”
Despite differences in the Democratic and GOP legislative approaches—including on whether chokeholds should be banned or simply discouraged, and setting conditions for suing police in civil courts—Clyburn said he hoped for compromise.
“I never call anything a nonstarter,” he said. “Let’s just let both houses do what they’re going to do, and then let’s get down to the serious business of reconciling our differences.”