Citizens United and the “Right” to Intimidate Employees on Voting
The Supreme Court’s unpopular “Citizens United” decision of 2010 has prompted CEOs to browbeat their employees about voting for Romney. America’s factories, offices and stores—unless unionized-- have long been places where the Bill of Rights does not apply and workers can be fired at will for failing to respect the totalitarian structures that characterize the modern corporation. In their frantic push to elect fellow plutocrats Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, corporate leaders are stretching even the weak bonds that Citizens United places upon them with threats and intimidation against their workers.
Citizens United does not eliminate existing state and federal prohibitions against language that is “threatening, coercive or intimidating,” as AFL-CIO associate general Laurence Gold stresses. “It does not mean that anything goes.”
Some states like New Jersey and Oregon also forbid management from conducting “captive audience” meetings to attempt to influence workers on electoral issues, and these statutes remain to be tested in the wake of Citizens United.
But “anything goes”-level zeal—complete with ample helpings of threats, coercion, and intimidation--seems to characterize much of the flood of corporate communications aimed at swaying the votes of workers toward Mitt Romney in the Nov. 6 election.
The torrent of communications was encouraged by Romney himself in a conference call with the National Federation of Independent Businesses leadership in June, as revealed my colleague Mike Elk of workinginthesetimes.com. Romney, operating in his persuasive salesman mode, told the business group, “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.”
Romney added a token disclaimer of non-partisanship –“And whether you agree with me or you agree with President Obama, or whatever your political view”--before getting to the closing part of his sales pitch: “Nothing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business, because I think that will figure into their election decision, their voting decision…”
Since then, US workers have been targeted by a sustained assault of letters and e-mails suggesting their wages, benefits, and jobs may be at risk if President Obama is reelected.
· Murray Energy coal company tycoon Robert Murray ordered his southern Ohio coal-miners to attend a rally for Mitt Romney (while not bothering to pay them for the full days pay hours they lost while they served as working-class props in pro-Romney video footage. ) Murray Chief Operating Officer Robert Moore’s explanation of the company policy could have been drafted by a satirist: "Attendance was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend the event.
Murray is even more forceful with salaried staff: “If you don't contribute, your job’s at stake," one employee bluntly explained. "There's a lot of coercion," he adds, "They will give you a call if you're not giving."
· David Siegel, the resort developer who likes to be photographed in a gold, throne-like chair, wrote letter to thousands of people who work for his company, Westgate, notifying them that if Obama is reelected, and "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." In short, if Obama wins, you may lose your job.
· The billionaire Koch brothers, who gained wide infamy for their role in funding the Tea Party front group Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council promoting regressive laws on voter suppression and corporate tax breaks, across the nation, sent out an e-mail and voter guides to their 45,000 employees at Georgia-Pacific:
"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." The message is not hard to translate: vote for Obama and suffer the consequences on the job, if you still have one.
· Michael White, chairman of the Rite-Hite Company in Milwaukee, Wis. sent a letter to his 1,400 workers hinting that they could face disastrous consequences if Obama wins reelection: Earnings that could strengthen the company and workers job security that instead “will be sent into the abyss that is Washington, D.C.” He also warned “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…Every opportunity to make up for lost profits to taxes will have to evaluated.”
Among the many other executives issuing pro-Romney statements or otherwise anti-Obama emails or pamphlets include Request Foods' Jack Dewitt; Cintas Corp.'s Scott Farmer; ASG Software Solution's Arthur Allen; and Wynn Resorts' Steve Wynn.
The present moment illuminates the imminent threat to democracy crafted by the reactionary majority of the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case. But as we intensify our efforts to overturn the Citizens United decision (New Jersey recently became the 9th state to oppose it), we should keep in mind that a massive majority shares our fears. As Katrina vanden Heuvel of the Nation pointed out, a just-released survey by the Corporate Reform Coalition shows that 81 percent of Americans said that secret spending is “bad for democracy,” and that 84 percent agreed that “average Americans' voices are drowned out by corporate spending on politics.”
Our challenge is convert that widespread sentiment into a vital movement, compellingly connecting the corrupt campaign-finance system to vital concerns like falling wages, growing inequality, climate warming, and the U.S. military empire.
Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based journalist whose work has appeared in, among others, The Progressive, Z Magazine, Progressive Populist, Extra!, American Prospect, Isthmus, and In These Times, for whom he blogs twice a week on labor issues at workinginthesetimes.com. Bybee edited the weekly Racine Labor for fourteen years.
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