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Companies can now advise employees on how to vote -- and they do

October 30, 2012|By Patt Morrison
  • The Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in 2010 also ended a Federal Election Commission ban on employers advising employees how to vote.
The Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in 2010 also ended a Federal… (Alex Brandon / Associated…)

What’s next, company stores, and company scrip instead of paychecks?

Liberated from Federal Election Commission policies by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, employers that were once barred from advising employees on how to vote are now free to start telling employees how they should vote, and including some "or else" warnings.

And it appears some of them already have.

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In 2010, just after the ruling, the Yale Law Journal surmised that the case could let employers "hold political captive audience workplace meetings with their employees," and may even be able to "compel their employees to listen" to their political views at those meetings "on pain of termination."

Isn’t that precisely what happened recently in Ohio? As The Times reported, miners who showed up for an August event with Mitt Romney that wound up in a Romney ad told a local radio host that they were forced to show up for the event at the mine, which is owned by Murray Energy, a big donor to Republican causes.

And they evidently weren’t even paid for doing so. In a double-whammy, the company closed the mine for supposed safety and security reasons on the day of the Romney event, then docked the workers’ pay for that day, after ordering them to show up. Here’s how Murray Chief Operating Officer Robert Moore explained it to WWVA radio; you figure it out: "Attendance was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend the event."


Who writes his material, Orwell?

Company owner Robert Murray also told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that "nobody was ordered to attend."

But he threw in this: "Barack Obama is destroying their lives, their livelihoods. These people are scared, and they came out in droves to see Mitt Romney, and that’s what it was all about." Except in Ohio, although not in every other mining region, the number of miners’ jobs has gone up for most of President Obama’s time in office. And aren't some of these companies themselves prospering under the economic policies of a president they oppose?

This may not be just some fluke.

David Siegel, the resort developer and the costar, with his wife, of the documentary "The Queen of Versailles," sent a 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."

But he says he is not trying to influence their votes.

And if you’re one of the 45,000 people working for Georgia-Pacific, a paper company owned by the billionaire Koch brothers, who are lining up hundreds of millions of dollars against Obama, you received in an employee packet about civic voter information a letter from the chief operating officer warning: "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."

Tucked in there too were assurances that voting decisions are "yours and yours alone." Employees also found anti-Obama and pro-Romney pieces penned by the Koch brothers, who are lampooned as the “Motch Brothers,” played by Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow, in the current slapstick-satire movie "The Campaign."

For some good-government folks, this is no laughing matter.

WFMY television in the swing state of North Carolina reported that the owner of a Taco Bell franchise encouraged employees to vote but, in his letter, also noted that the power of one vote is "enormous" and declared that "Obamacare creates a system that will force struggling businesses to cut your work hours to avoid paying for expensive insurance plans or tax penalties."

The station cited North Carolina statutes saying it’s a misdemeanor to intimidate employees to vote in a certain way.

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