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.

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