Workers 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fans of the marriage of capitalism and bigotry should keep their Wednesday lunch plans flexible, because tomorrow is Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. Mike Huckabee conjured up the day as a celebration of all that is fabulous about a corporation he thinks is “being smeared by vicious hate speech” on the left:
The goal is simple: Let’s affirm a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse by simply showing up and eating at Chick Fil-A on Wednesday, August 1. Too often, those on the left make corporate statements to show support for same sex marriage, abortion, or profanity, but if Christians affirm traditional values, we’re considered homophobic, fundamentalists, hate-mongers, and intolerant.
I’m hard to know where he finds “those on the left” making “corporate statements” supporting abortion and profanity (“Fifteen minutes will save you fifteen percent on car insurance, and while you’re at it go terminate your fucking pregancy”?), but let’s overlook that for now. With just one shopping day left until C-f-A-AD, we need to answer some of the big questions people have about l’affaire d’chicken.
Does Chick-fil-A hate gay people?
The firm’s defenders would have you believe that the company doesn’t hate gay people; it just hates same-sex marriage. The current controversy was sparked by company president Dan Cathy’s observation a few weeks ago that “we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’ … We are very much supportive of the family, the biblical definition of the family unit.” The company’s conservative friends contend that “Chick-Fil-A has not turned away a single customer because that customer was a homosexual … [and] has not discriminated in any way against either employees or customers.”
But as groups such as the Equality Matters project have amply documented, Chick-fil-A through its charitable arm the Winshape Foundation donates millions to stridently anti-LGBT causes and organizations. We’re not talking just entities that mount legal challenges to same-sex marriage; these are groups that condemn “any homosexual act” (Fellowship of Christian Athletes), that regard being LGBT as “perverse” and promote “ex-gay therapy” (Exodus International), that frame pedophilia as a “homosexual problem” (Family Research Council), and that characterize the homosexual agenda as “a principal threat to religious freedom” (Alliance Defense Fund).
Chick-fil-A executives may say they are committed to treating people with “honor, dignity and respect … regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender,” but actions speak louder than words. Through its foundation arm, the company finances hate, simple as that.
What about these reports of mayors and other elected officials threatening to block Chick-fil-A from expanding in their cities? Can they do that?
Certainly not. Voices on both the left and the right have been quick to denounce those threats, to the extent that they were actually threats to use instruments of public policy, as unsavory and absurdly impulsive assaults on the First Amendment. Even LGBT advocates get this. (An exception, a somewhat game but ultimately lame effort on the left to defend the mayors’ actions, is here, effectively refuted here.) But let’s be clear that even if public officials shouldn’t be threatening to make it harder for a business to do business because of political or religious viewpoints, those officials certainly do have the right to use their bully pulpits to express a personal opinion that they find the practices of a corporation offensive. Some have had to walk back their comments because in the scrum of the issue’s national momentum, they didn’t quite grasp the difference.
What about those on the right who locate just a wee bit of hypocrisy in Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s obstreperous objection to Chick-fil-A’s stance on marriage, given that it is the same position held by Barack Obama while Emanuel served as White House chief of staff, and held by Bill Clinton while Emanuel served in that administration? Do they have a point?
They do indeed.
So bottom line: should you eat at Chick-fil-A on Wednesday?
If you agree with Mike Huckabee that Chick-fil-A, a firm using its profits via foundation contributions to promote intolerant bigotry, is somehow being victimized by “intolerant bigotry from the left” when those contributions are factually revealed and discussed, then sure, knock yourself out. Otherwise I’d say give it a miss.
A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.
Ten years ago today the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) was enacted, supposedly ushering in a new post-Enron era of corporate governance. A New York Times “Room for Debate” feature published a few days ago on the paper’s website offers four viewpoints on the law’s value after a decade, although the timeliness of the feature is tempered somewhat by its shallowness.
According to one writer, attorney Michael Peregrine, SOX’s benefit is largely conceptual, the law having catalyzed “a more robust respect for corporate compliance, fiduciary duty to shareholders and ethical behavior.” Another, Broc Romanek, who edits a website on legal issues pertaining to securities regulation and corporate governance, concedes that some of the new requirements embedded in the law “have stopped some frauds in their tracks,” but regards the larger pursuit of governance reform as “in its infancy as board failures remain too common.” A third, former SEC deputy chief of staff Kayla Gillan, points to the law’s merits as a deterrent: “Those who would seek to provide the market with misleading numbers are less likely to be able to do so because the public company internal controls are now much more effective.”
These are all lovely, essentially upbeat sentiments, but the Times package is incomplete because it comes off as a bit of a whitewash, omitting the widely held view on the right that the SOX law does more harm than good and should be dismantled. The Cato Institute crowd has been espousing this view for quite some time, and we now find ourselves with a major party presidential candidate who is on the record favoring outright repeal of the law.
While it’s certainly plausible (even likely) that a sweeping reform law passed in the emotional wake of scandal overreaches, it is hard to believe that doing away entirely with the law’s new regime of accounting controls and executive responsibility for the integrity of firms’ financial statements is a way to advance boardroom ethics. As the Wall Street Journal has reported, “Many businesses have complained that the new requirements are onerous and costly.” As well they should be.