Anyone who has even a little interest in the presidential race can feel the pressure each campaign is putting on voters, from emails to phone calls to incessant political ads flooding the airwaves and sweeping media coverage of the upcoming election. The polls show the candidates in a very close contest that will only shake out when all the votes are counted, making every voter’s decision extremely important.
There are rampant attempts to influence voters from all sides, but perhaps the most unfair and coercive are the emails and mandates sent to employees by business owners telling them to vote for Romney or the business that employs them will suffer – the implication being that some may lose their jobs.
Everyone at some time or another has had a political difference of opinion with a friend, family member or coworker, but none of those relationships can bring as much pressure to bear on a voter as an employer, especially in this economic climate where employees have very real reasons to fear for their jobs. Our country may be recovering, but many employees are far from feeling secure.
Romney tells business owners to express their voting opinion to their workers
Mitt Romney encouraged the idea himself. In a June conference call hosted by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Romney told business owners that they should tell their employees how they feel about the election. In These Times reports that after calling President Obama’s policies “an anti-business, anti-job agenda,” Romney said,
“I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections. And whether you agree with me or you agree with President Obama, or whatever your political view, I hope, I hope you pass those along to your employees. There’s nothing illegal about your talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business, because I think that will figure into their election decision…”
The Koch brothers make their choices known to Georgia Pacific workers
Several business owners chose to take Romney’s advice. Two of the most outspoken are the Koch Brothers, who have gone far beyond voicing their political opinions to employees of Georgia Pacific. In These Times reports that not only did the Koch brothers communicate to their employees the national and local candidates they support, they also distributed an anti-Obama editorial and a pro-Romney editorial. The email, sent by Koch Industries President and COO, Dave Robertson, cautioned,
“While we are typically told before each Presidential election that it is important and historic, I believe the upcoming election will determine what kind of America future generations will inherit. If we elect candidates who want to spend hundreds of billions in borrowed money on costly new subsidies for a few favored cronies, put unprecedented regulatory burdens on businesses, prevent or delay important new construction projects, and excessively hinder free trade, then many of our more than 50,000 U.S. employees and contractors may suffer the consequences, including higher gasoline prices, runaway inflation, and other ills.”
A group of Georgia Pacific employees had appeared in a photo with a Democratic candidate in front of their union hall a few weeks before the Koch memo was circulated. Afterward, the union fielded calls from the employees worried that if the photo was circulated over social media, they might be fired.
Evidently, opinions on political support can only be communicated downward. The company implemented a vague but worrisome social media policy earlier this year that has employees nervous about what they post online and questioning if they dare to endorse a candidate not on the Koch list.
Another employee, Travis McKinney, reported that he was told he would not get a promotion because he was “too political,” and he should be careful what he posts online. A later evaluation stated that his supervisors thought he was too caught up in current politics and that could “be a distraction.” McKinney was previously quoted in a Nation article about how the Koch brothers heavily pushed their principles onto employees.
For the detailed account and the Koch brother’s intimidation denial, see the In These Times post.
More CEOs express Romney support to their employees
Huffington Post has spotlighted other business owners who have leaned on their employees with their pro-Romney message. They include: Request Foods’ Jack Dewitt, Cintas Corp.’s Scott Farmer; ASG Software Solution’s Arthur Allen; Wynn Resorts’ Steve Wynn; Westgate Resorts’ David Siegel; Lacks Enterprises’ Richard Lacks and Las Vegas Sands’ Sheldon Adelson.
- In their October newsletter, Request Food’s Jack DeWitt says, “The past 4 years with President Obama, trying to lead and represent us, has been a complete failure,” even though the company received 5.5 million in stimulus funds and has seen solid growth during the recession, expanding and adding 250 jobs. Those workers, hired due to funds granted by the Obama administration, are now being encouraged to vote against the president.
- Scott Farmer of Cintas focused his outrage on Obamacare. In a recent email, Farmer hints to employees that the company may choose to pay a fine, rather than supply its employees with healthcare coverage. “While one of the original intents of the new health care law was to provide broader access to health care for all people, the law is actually set up to allow companies to eliminate their health care coverage and instead pay a penalty of $2,000 per employee.”
- Arthur Allen of ASG software tells his employees they’re damned if they do, and damned if they don’t, but they’d still better vote for Romney. “If we fail as a nation to make the right choice on November 6th, and we lose our independence as a company, I don’t want to hear any complaints regarding the fallout that will most likely come. Remember, in the world of business, companies are consolidators or they get consolidated; so far ASG has been a consolidator… When we buy a company, we eliminate about 60 percent of the salaries of the employees of that company. If we lose our independence and get consolidated, the same thing would happen to ASG’s employees. I am asking you to give us one more chance to stay independent by voting in a new President and administration on November 6th. Even then, we still might not be able to remain independent, but it will at least give us a chance. If we don’t, that chance goes away.”
- Casino giants Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson sent their employees “voter guides” to educate their employees on the recommended candidates. An anonymous Wynn employee said there was no doubt in her workplace which way employees were expected to vote, and many worried about the consequences of supporting non-Wynn endorsed candidates outside of work, “with a yard sign, donation or blog post.”
- Richard Lacks of Lacks Enterprises, a Michigan-based car parts manufacturer (who also, presumably, benefited from Obama’s car industry bailout), told employees to vote for Romney, in a letter that also contained employee bonuses. He also stated that if Obamacare raised the company’s health insurance costs, he would pass that cost on to employees.
- David Siegel, who once claimed he was responsible for George Bush’s 2000 victory, told employees, “If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current President plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company.”
Unfortunately, this practice is not illegal since the Citizens United ruling gave wide latitude to corporations’ political speech, and, apparently, license to heavily influence their employees’ voting choices. It even goes so far as to allow employers to compel their workers to participate in political events, whether they want to or not.
Dirty coal tactics
Earlier this year, The Plain Deal covered a dustup over a Romney event at Murray Energy in Ohio. The company closed the plant, withheld that day’s pay from all workers and mandated that all employees attend the event, which later was used by Romney to “blast the war on coal.”
Some employees who feared for their jobs if they didn’t attend, complained to a radio station. In a subsequent radio interview, CFO Rob Moore said that “managers ‘communicated to our workforce that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend.’ He said the company did not penalize no-shows.”
However, in The New Republic, Alec MacGillis disputes this claim, reporting that Murray Energy has a lengthy history of compelling employees to support and donate to candidates of the company’s choosing. He writes that internal documents prove that “company officials track who is and who is not giving.” These sources also say that “those who do not give are at risk of being demoted or missing out on bonuses.”
The specter hovering over future elections
In this post-Citizens United political climate, employers are evidently free to blatantly exercise a huge amount of influence over thousands of employees in this and future elections. No one can predict what will happen on Tuesday, but we’ll never know how many votes were cast out of fear for their jobs and how many felt free to vote their conscience.
image: Talk Radio News Service via Flickr cc (some rights reserved).