Paul Adair is a 21-year Germantown resident, retired scientist, writer, and lecturer.
We elect our government officials through a secret ballot. Nobody knows how you vote when you enter the booth. Who you vote for is up to you. However, there is a heinous and growing trend of company managers trying to coerce the political behavior of their employees. For example:
Colorado recently held recalls for two of its state senators. During signature gathering, bosses from a small tire store and a liquor store reportedly drove each of their employees, one at a time, to sign the recall petitions in their boss's presence. Would any employee who refused be allowed to keep their job?
- Republican mega-donor Robert Murray required his Ohio coal mine employees to attend a mandatory Mitt Romney rally without pay. Many of the miners were asked to stand behind the Mitt-ster as human props, under a banner saying “Coal Country Supports Mitt”. In addition, Murray's salaried employees have been arm-twisted to give money to select right-wing politicians for years.
- In October 2012, Koch Industries President David Robertson sent a packet to 45,000 employees, encouraging them to vote for a selected slate of right-wing candidates. Included in the packet were anti-Obama and pro-Romney diatribes by company owners Charles and David Koch. I guess that simply buying politicians is not enough for the multi-billionaire brothers. They must also instruct their employees how to vote.
Cedar City, Utah employer Terry Lee fired two employees at his forensics company just for being Democrats. Lee said, "They were Obama supporters. We just knew they were."
Other than a ban on forced political contributions, there are few current federal laws that prohibit coercive political tactics like these. In fact, the Citizen's United ruling pretty well removed most constraints from what a manager can do to politically strong-arm his employees. However, just because something is legal does not mean that it is proper, ethical, or moral.
Political bullying by managers is not new, but reached a whole new level during the 2012 Presidential election. The practice was even heartily endorsed by one of the candidates. In a June, 2012 conference call with the National Federation of Independent Business, Mitt Romney asked the members to encourage their employees to vote for him, saying “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.”
Perhaps the king of political bullying is David Seigel, CEO of Westgate Resorts. He sent an October 2012 message to all of his employees, threatening to fire many of them if President Obama was elected. In his rambling note, he stated “The economy doesn't currently pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job however, is another 4 years of the same Presidential administration. “ He further wrote, “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. “
Seigel is no beginner at politically intimidating his employees. He claims responsibility for Bush “winning” the 2000 election. According to Seigel, “Whenever I saw a negative article about Gore, I put it in with the paychecks of my 8,000 employees. I had my managers do a survey on every employee. If they liked Bush, we made them register to vote. But not if they liked Gore. “
These brazen attempts to influence employees' votes don't only happen in other places. Wisconsin had its own nationally-publicized case of political bullying by the boss. In 2012, Rite-Hite heir/CEO Mike White sent a political note to the employees of his Brown Deer based company. White threatened that employee's retirement plans were at risk if President Obama was reelected: “President Obama has announced that our planned tax rate would increase to roughly 65%, reducing our after tax income by 36% and dramatically reducing, if not eliminating, your and my RSP contributions.“
White further threatened that the employees' health insurance plan could be eliminated, saying “The other big impact on Rite-Hite employees, if President Obama is re-elected, is the good chance of losing Rite-Hite insurance and being put into Obamacare.“
Political intimidation of employees violates the Wisconsin Constitution (section 12.07(3)). Citing this law, faith and community leaders filed a formal complaint against White's action to the GAB. The matter was then referred to the Milwaukee County DA's office. I could find no follow-up information on this case.
It is funny how many rich white guys think that they know what is in the best interests of their middle class employees. Success in business does not qualify one to be a political expert. Many of my own managers made Dilbert's boss look like a genius. Maybe these guys should just keep their political lives separate from their business lives.
Managers have absolute control over the livelihoods of their employees. They should not also try to control them politically. Bosses should no more tell workers how to vote than tell them what religion to follow or how to conduct their private lives. No one should be subject to political intimidation in the workplace. We need tough new Federal laws to limit the ability of mangers to force their own political agendas on their workers.