Washington, D.C. -- Following is a statement by CWA President Larry Cohen on voter coercion in the workplace:
In a democracy, corporations shouldn't control speech, but thanks to Citizens United, your boss can tell you how to vote.
Picture this: A multibillion dollar company wants to influence the opinions and actions of its employees. Executives hold mandatory town hall meetings where they imply that workers better toe the company line or risk being fired. On the job, supervisors push the company’s views on their subordinates. The corporation starts monitoring employees’ conversations on Facebook and Twitter. Dissenters are threatened, and moles are planted.
It’s just another day at too many U.S. companies, where workers who want a voice in their workplace face campaigns of harassment, intimidation and worse. But increasingly, we’re hearing that it’s happening at workplaces across the country when it comes to workers’ participation in our democracy, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.
Citizens United opened the floodgates to limitless corporate money in elections, but in a lesser known move, it also overturned laws prohibiting employers from forcing their employees to listen to their political views – legalizing the one-sided, on-the-clock propaganda tactics that have long been a hallmark of anti-union campaigns.
Mitt Romney made that perfectly clear during a conference call with the National Federation of Independent Business, in which he encouraged employers to persuade workers how to vote in the presidential election. “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,” he said on the call, brought to light by reporting in “In These Times.”
Romney even went out of his way to reassure business owners that there’s nothing wrong with this strong arming. “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 and of course doing that with your family and your kids as well,” he said.
CEOs are already on it.
Mike White, the CEO of Rite-Hite industries, a major employer in Milwaukee, sent an email to employees stating that they "should understand the personal consequences to them of having our tax rates increase dramatically if President Obama is re-elected, forcing taxpayers to fund President Obama's future deficits and social programs (including Obamacare), which require bigger government."
White may be running into some trouble in because Wisconsin law prohibits employers from making “threats intended to influence the political opinions or actions of the employees.” But so far, Citizens United has had a broad reach; a challenge to “Citizens United” by the state of Montana was struck down this summer.
The Koch Brothers mailed 45,000 employees a flyer endorsing Romney and a letter warning that their livelihood depends on how they vote. Westgate Resorts CEO David Siegel sent an email to thousands of employees, strongly suggesting that if Barack Obama is reelected it “means fewer jobs, less benefits and certainly less opportunity for everyone." ASG Software Solutions CEO Arthur Allen also forecasted massive cuts and layoffs in an Obama second term in an email to his workers.
Unfortunately, the labor movement knows the dangers of this culture of fear all too well.
But corporate campaigning at work is not free speech, whether directed against collective bargaining rights or in favor of a political candidate. Money and economic power are not speech and cannot substitute for the rights of every member of our society to be more engaged in their own decision making.
For decades workplace rights have been attacked. Now no limits means our political rights can be threatened as well. We need to build a political movement for democracy that makes it clear that money is not speech and that in our 21st century democracy, the rights of all of us to participate effectively must be cherished.