An unexpected result of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which allows corporations significantly greater freedom in regards to political spending, is that employers can now send political materials to their employees. Several large companies have sent mailings and memos to employees that endorse candidates, some of which claim their jobs could be threatened if a particular candidate wins.
David Siegel, CEO of Westgate Resorts, told his employees via email that if Obama is re-elected and enacts his tax plan as promised, he would “have no choice but to reduce the size of this company,” according to an Oct. 26 New York Times article.
None of these letters explicitly link an employee’s vote to his or her possible termination, which would be illegal. However, insinuations like these can have a disturbing effect on employees’ voting behavior.
According to federal law, it is illegal to intimidate, threaten or coerce any person with the intent to interfere with that person’s right to choose whom they vote for. Companies that have endorsed candidates to their employees, including the paper company Georgia-Pacific and the uniform company Cintas, have been careful to stay on the right side of the law, but telling employees that one presidential candidate endangers their jobs demeans the deeply personal right to vote by directly linking it to job security.
On June 6, while Mitt Romney was involved in a conference call with the National Federation of Independent Businesses, he asked employers to share their political views with their employees, saying, “I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of their enterprise, and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections,” according to an In These Times article published Oct. 18.
Romney’s words exemplify the problem. He is encouraging people to vote for their boss’s interests, not their own. Employers have a certain authority over their employees, and perhaps one candidate’s economic policies will affect employment. However, voters shouldn’t feel that their job is directly threatened by their political values.
Even before the Citizens United ruling, labor unions were allowed to make campaign contributions and recommend candidates to their members. The difference is that a union’s No. 1 priority is protecting its members, so any political action it takes should be done for the benefit of workers. Employers, on the other hand, often have conflicting interests.
Companies shouldn’t be able to use their authority to intimidate employees in the voting booth. Businesses do not own their employees’ political values, and any workplace where this is acceptable should be avoided. If votes are cast solely based on the threat of being fired, we will have a political system dominated by business interests.