CCA to Idaho: We’re Blowing This Popsicle Stand

CCAPatchThe Associated Press reports that Nashville-based corporate prison behemoth Corrections Corporation of America is pulling out of Idaho after what the AP story calls “more than a decade marked by scandal and lawsuits surrounding its operation of the state’s largest prison.”

A company executive informed the Idaho Department of Corrections in a letter that CCA will not bother to bid on a new contract to run the Idaho Correctional Center located just south of Boise. CCA’s Idaho operation has been plagued by inmate lawsuits alleging that understaffing and all-around bad management have led to violent conditions. Although a settlement was reach in 2011, CCA’s legal troubles in Idaho took a new turn earlier this year when the firm fessed up to falsifying staffing records at the prison, acts that caused Idaho’s taxpayers to pay the company for thousands of hours of time for staff positions that were actually vacant.

The latest bad news for the company — and perhaps the final straw for its Idaho operation — came in mid-September when a federal judge found CCA in contempt for the chronic understaffing problems at the facility. The ruling (pdf) by District Judge David O. Carter reads like quite the CCA smackdown, with the court noting “extensive and ongoing violations of the Settlement Agreement”:

For CCA staff to lie on so basic a point—whether an officer is actually at a post—leaves the Court with serious concerns about compliance in other respects, such as whether every violent incident is reported.

In the letter informing Idaho corrections of the company’s decision not to rebid, CCA Vice President Brad Regens wrote that “we have delivered exceptional value to Idaho’s taxpayers through cost savings, and we’ve also provided outstanding rehabilitation programming to the inmates entrusted in our care.” I guess Regens thought it best not to mention that the Idaho prison they managed came to be known as “gladiator school” on account of the rampant violence there.

CCA is the nation’s largest private prison operator (“a full-service corrections management provider” offering “future-focused, forward-thinking correctional solutions” is how they describe themselves), running more than 60 facilities in 20 states. Make that 19.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.


BoA: What We Stand For

From ProPublica, a headline that tells us everything we need to know about why large corporations generally, and financial institutions specifically, have such a hard time cultivating consumer trust:


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The lede:

Bank of America employees regularly lied to homeowners seeking loan modifications, denied their applications for made-up reasons, and were rewarded for sending homeowners to foreclosure, according to sworn statements by former bank employees.

The modus operandi:

Sometimes, homeowners were simply denied en masse in a procedure called a “blitz,” said William Wilson, Jr., who worked as an underwriter and manager from 2010 until 2012. As part of the modification applications, homeowners were required to send in documents with their financial information. About twice a month, Wilson said, the bank ordered that all files with documentation 60 or more days old simply be denied. “During a blitz, a single team would decline between 600 and 1,500 modification files at a time,” he said in the sworn declaration. To justify the denials, employees produced fictitious reasons, for instance saying the homeowner had not sent in the required documents, when in actuality, they had.

Also this:

Five of the former Bank of America employees stated that they were encouraged to mislead customers. “We were told to lie to customers and claim that Bank of America had not received documents it had requested,” said Simone Gordon, who worked at the bank from 2007 until early 2012 as a senior collector. “We were told that admitting that the Bank received documents ‘would open a can of worms,’” she said, since the bank was required to underwrite applications within 30 days of receiving documents and didn’t have adequate staff.

And of course the inevitable denial:

In a statement, a Bank of America spokesman said that each of the former employees’ statements is “rife with factual inaccuracies” and that the bank will respond more fully in court next month.

It all fits elegantly with BoA CEO Brian Moynihan’s “What We Stand For” declaration: “Our purpose is clear. We are here to make the financial lives of those who do business with us better.”


Quasi-Organizing at Walmart

Walmart_exteriorWorkers in dozens of Walmart stores around the country are planning actions Wednesday that will confront their local managers with demands for changes to the firm’s system for scheduling employee shifts. As The Nation‘s Josh Eidelson reports, Walmart employees have been collectively upset with with erratic work schedules that limit hours and complicate personal lives, all while keeping aggregate wages at poverty levels.

If organizers’ estimates hold, Wednesday’s coordinated worker delegations will represent the largest mobilization of OUR Walmart members since last November’s Black Friday strikes, in which organizers say 400-some workers walked off the job. In some stores, workers will go together to talk to management before or after their shifts; in others, workers will do so during the work day….While the delegations’ shared date and message may amplify attention, their greatest significance will be as the latest test of rank-and-file OUR Walmart leaders’ ability to mobilize co-workers amid fear of retaliation.

It’s also a interesting and important show of the power of organizing even where workers aren’t already organized in the formal labor union sense — using labor law’s statutory protections covering “concerted activity” to advance employee interests.


CEOs to GOP: That Pig Won’t Fly

John Ingram, the CEO of La Vergne-based media conglomerate Ingram Content Group, is among a list of more than 80 chief executives of major U.S. firms pressuring Congress to address the nation’s fiscal problems with both tax increases and spending cuts. The CEOs’ joint letter summarizes their approach in three bullet points:

The plan should:

Reform Medicare and Medicaid, improve efficiency in the overall health care system and limit future cost growth;

Strengthen Social Security, so that it is solvent and will be there for future beneficiaries; and

Include comprehensive and pro-growth tax reform, which broadens the base, lowers rates, raises revenues and reduces the deficit.

By pointing to the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission as “an effective framework for such a plan,” the CEOs will make some Democrats unhappy given how far Simpson-Bowles goes in advocating potential cuts to cherished programs. And they will surely make many Republicans unhappy by admitting the obvious: that raising revenue is also essential.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, this approach is a noticeable departure from other business groups, which tend to sidestep the matter of raising taxes. Although the CEOs aren’t explicitly aiming the message in any particular political direction, what we have here is an impressive list of top executives from a variety of companies telling Mitt Romney and the Republican party that their approach to debt and deficit reduction eschewing any possibility of new revenue simply isn’t credible.

The CEO statement comes from and through the Campaign to Fix the Debt, a self-proclaimed non-partisan movement to “mobilize key communities — including leaders from business, government, and policy — and people all across America who want to see elected officials step up to solve our nation’s fiscal challenges.” The Campaign’s founders are Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles (yes, that Simpson and that Bowles). Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen is a member of its steering committee.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.


Compelled Speech at Work II

The Murray Energy company made news back in August when some of the coal miners in its employ went public with statements that they were pressured by the company to attend a Mitt Romney campaign event on Aug. 14 at the firm’s Century Mine in Beallsville, Ohio.

Murray Energy returned to the public stage in its role as a leading proponent of compelled workplace speech with this piece at The New Republic late last week describing the firm’s extensive and continuing efforts to channel employee time and money to Republican candidates:

Since 2007, employees of Murray Energy and its subsidiaries, along with their families and the Murray PAC, have contributed over $1.4 million to Republican candidates for federal office. Murray’s fund-raisers have feted the likes of Scott Brown, Rand Paul, David Vitter, Carly Fiorina, and Jim DeMint. Home-state pols get love, too. Murray’s PAC and staffers are the sixth-largest source for Ohio senatorial hopeful Josh Mandel. They’ve given $720,000 to candidates for state office in the past decade.

We all know that federal law requires that firms treat employee participation in company PACs as strictly voluntary, but Alec MacGillis’s TNR investigative piece surfaces plenty of evidence suggesting that things work just a wee bit differently at Murray:

The accounts of two sources who have worked in managerial positions at the firm, and a review of letters and memos to Murray employees, suggest that coercion may also explain Murray staffers’ financial support for Romney. Murray, it turns out, has for years pressured salaried employees to give to the Murray Energy political action committee (PAC) and to Republican candidates chosen by the company. Internal documents show that company officials track who is and is not giving. The sources say that those who do not give are at risk of being demoted or missing out on bonuses, claims Murray denies.

MacGillis goes on to report that the inappropriate pressure on workers can be traced right to the top — to company founder, CEO, and board chairman Bob Murray:

Internal Murray documents show just how upset Murray becomes when employees fail to join the giving. In missives, he cajoles employees to attend fund-raisers and scolds them when they or their subordinates do not. In cases of low participation, reminders from his lieutenants have included tables or spreadsheets showing how each of the eleven Murray subsidiaries was performing. And at least one note came with a list of names of employees who had not yet given. “What is so difficult about asking a well-paid, salaried employee to give us three hours of his/her time every two months?” Murray writes in a March 2012 letter. “We have been insulted by every salaried employee who does not support our efforts.” He concludes: “I do not recall ever seeing the attached list of employees…at one of our fund-raisers.”

Corporate pressure on employees to take part in compelled political speech is nothing new, and clearly the so-called “voluntary” nature of PAC contributions inside firms is experienced by many as something other than voluntary. A survey of finance executives in 2004 by CFO Magazine found 24 percent of respondents saying that not giving to their corporate PAC could be detrimental to their careers, and another 16 percent saying they were unsure. At Murray Energy, compelled speech is apparently a corporate way of life, corralling management and rank-and-file employees alike.


Chick-fil-A Continues to Dissemble

Maybe Chick-fil-A really does want to turn over a new leaf and rebrand itself as a corporation that doesn’t hate gay people, but if so the company is sure making a feckless hash of it. The purveyors of gay-hate chicken returned to the news earlier this week when a Chicago alderman who had been trying to keep the chain from expanding in his neighborhood announced that Chick-fil-A would now assert publicly its respect for all sexual orientations and would no longer funnel money through its affiliated foundation to groups opposing same-sex marriage. But according to an AP report late Thursday, although the company says its “corporate giving has been mischaracterized,” it still hasn’t made it clear whether its giving approach has actually changed.

So we go to the Chick-fil-A corporate media relations site for the company’s latest press release:

We want to provide some context and clarity around who we are, what we believe and our priorities in relation to corporate giving. A part of our corporate commitment is to be responsible stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. Because of this commitment, Chick-fil-A’s giving heritage is focused on programs that educate youth, strengthen families and enrich marriages, and support communities. We will continue to focus our giving in those areas. Our intent is not to support political or social agendas.

The release links to an accompanying four-page document, Chick-fil-A: Who We Are, that purports to explain the company’s overall policy toward support for social causes and community initiatives. It asserts a commitment to treat “every person with honor, dignity, and respect” regardless of sexual orientation, but on the issues of LGBT rights and marriage equality there is only a restatement of the line in the news release about supporting programs that “help strengthen and enrich marriages.”

There is nothing inherently sinister about a company that wants to “strengthen and enrich marriages” while peddling chicken sandwiches. Chick-fil-A’s problem is that through its donations over the years it has been incorporating vitriolic anti-gay bigotry as a featured condiment. The company’s supporters want us to believe that their pro-marriage agenda is not an anti-gay one. But what are we to think when thousands of dollars end up in the hands of, say, the Eagle Forum, which regards the expansion of LGBT rights as not merely a bit of a bummer, but as a seismic change in “cultural landscape” that could “threaten the very existence of our civilization.”

Telling the public that your corporate goal in this arena is only to support the wonderful institution of marriage while giving money to groups that support the wonderful institution of marriage but also hate gay people with every fiber of their being doesn’t cut it. So forgive us, Chick-fil-A, if we aren’t taking your half-hearted attempt at a corporate PR makeover at your word. You say you want to “remain out of this political and social debate.” Fine, now prove it. Here’s the news release you need to issue:

We regret that in our efforts to strengthen and enrich marriages we have gotten mixed up with groups that traffic in bigotry. We will no longer funnel a dime of corporate money to pro-marriage groups, like Exodus, Eagle Forum, the Family Research Council, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, who regard being gay is a threat to civilization and who support using public policy to deny equal rights to the LGBT community. We now understand that when you support a group financially, even if your intention is limited to some particular aspect of their agenda, you wear their entire agenda as your own. We say as a corporation that we will treat every person with honor, dignity, and respect regardless of sexual orientation. We are now prepared to live that commitment, not just say it.

That will get you out of the political and social debate, and back in the business of selling chicken — to everyone.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.


Compelled Speech at Work

Quick quiz: What’s worse than a company that compels its workers to engage in expressive political activity? Answer: When it forces workers do that and docks their pay at the same time.

Such is the circumstance experienced by a group of Ohio coal miners, who say they were pressured by their employer to attend a Mitt Romney event on Aug. 14. This came to light Monday when employees who feared they’d lose their jobs complained to a radio talk show host. That host then discussed it with Murray Energy’s CFO Rob Moore, who offered one of the great one-sentence bits of doublespeak uttered in recent memory. According to Moore, company managers “communicated to our workforce that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend.” The mine was shut down for security reasons, so workers were not paid for the day.

Moore, with no shortage of presumption and no hint of irony, also told the radio station that the Romney rally was “an event that was in the best interest of anyone that’s related to the coal industry in this area or the entire country.” The man may have overstepped his bounds a bit, given that later Monday a company spokesman commented that “no employees were forced to attend the Romney event,” adding that participation was “completely voluntary.”

Murray Energy’s executives are big contributors to the GOP, and CEO Bob Murray is said to be a serious climate change denialist. The firm’s leaders certainly have every right to believe what they want and to write campaign checks to whomever they want. Sadly, in our very timid system of legal protections for the expressive rights of private sector workers, they also have the ability to coerce their workers into political submission. Saying after the fact that participation was “voluntary” scarcely dilutes the fear employees no doubt perceived about the true nature of that “voluntary” opportunity.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the Romney campaign did not respond to a request for comment. There’s a shocker.


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