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.

One Comment on “Compelled Speech at Work”

  1. […] Murray Energy company made news back in August when some of the coal miners in its employ went public with statements that they […]


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