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Paarlberg writes: "So many stories of employers pressuring their workers to vote for Romney have come out that you might think workplace intimidation was invented just for this election."

'A number of Romney backers took it upon themselves to spell out more clearly to their workers what 'the best interest for their job' really means.' (photo: AP)
'A number of Romney backers took it upon themselves to spell out more clearly to their workers what 'the best interest for their job' really means.' (photo: AP)

Can the Company Fire You for the Way You Vote?

By Michael Paarlberg, Guardian UK ]

28 October 12


o many stories of employers pressuring their workers to vote for Romney have come out that you might think workplace intimidation was invented just for this election.

Romney certainly hasn't done much to dispel this perception. In a conference call to the National Federation of Independent Business, the GOP candidate was recorded encouraging business owners to:

"[M]ake it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections."

A number of Romney backers took it upon themselves to spell out more clearly to their workers what "the best interest for their job" really means. David Siegel, CEO of Florida's Westgate Resorts, emailed his employees that a second term for Obama would likely give him "no choice but to reduce the size of this company". Republican donor-activists Charles and David Koch were no less subtle when they sent 45,000 employees of their Georgia Pacific paper company a list of whom to vote for, warning that workers "may suffer the consequences" if Obama is re-elected.

Florida-based ASG Software CEO Arthur Allen informed his employees that he was contemplating a merger that would eliminate "60% of the salaries" of the company – should Romney lose. In Ohio, coal mine owner Robert Murray left employees in no doubt that they were expected to attend a Romney rally – off the clock and without pay. In Cuba, at least they pay workers for show demonstrations.

Democrats are apoplectic. But as Romney assured those who have the power to hire and fire thousands of people, there is "nothing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business". He's right. Heavy-handed? Yes. An abuse of authority? Probably. Against the law? Not likely. News outlets, on the other hand, are merely confused.

"Can your boss really tell you who to vote for?" asked the Atlantic incredulously, before concluding the answer is "probably yes". Should this be a surprise? Seeing that your boss can legally tell you to do nearly anything else, down to what you may wear, when you may eat and how often you may go to the bathroom (and, if he wishes, demand samples when you do), the question comes across as a little naïve. So, too, is the corollary "Can you be fired for expressing political views at work?" Again, the answer is probably yes, which should only be a shock to anyone who has never held a job in an American private-sector workplace.

In truth, as an "at-will" (that is, non-union) employee, you can be fired for much less. In Arizona, you can be fired for using birth control. If you live in any one of 29 states, you can be fired for being gay. You can be fired for being a fan of the Green Bay Packers if your boss roots for the Bears.

Lest you think employer authority ends when you clock out, only four states – California, Colorado, New York and North Dakota – protect workers from being fired for legal activity outside of work. For the rest, workers can and have been fired for anything from smoking to cross-dressing, all in the privacy of their homes. The growing practice of employers demanding job applicants to hand over their Facebook passwords underscores the blurring of the work-life divide in this information age.

But free speech and voting rights are supposed to be more sacrosanct than the integrity of your Facebook account, so one would expect there to be greater political safeguards at work than there actually are. This is not to say they don't exist. Federal law makes it illegal to "intimidate, threaten or coerce" anyone against voting as they wish. But as Siegel, Allen and the Koch brothers have shown, the distinction between possible coercion or intimidation and "worker education" is rather fuzzy in the eyes of the law.

Rather, the federal government largely punted questions of employee free speech to states, a legacy of federalism that hasn't had the best track record when it comes to voting rights. In a state-by-state breakdown, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh finds such laws vary widely. About half of Americans live in states that provide some worker protection for political speech or from pressure to vote a certain way, such as threat of job loss. Florida is not one of them. Ohio bars employers from forcing workers to sign a petition, but not from standing in front of cameras next to a "Coal Country Stands With Mitt" banner.

Of course, what's on the books is one matter; enforcement is another. Even if you are lucky enough to live in New Mexico and have a signed letter saying you were fired for your Obama tote bag, it typically takes litigation to get your job back. And many people don't have the time or money to go through a court battle, even if the law is on their side.

If anything is happening on the legal end, things are getting worse. The 2010 US supreme court Citizens United case greatly expanded the parameters of what is considered "employer free speech". Most famously, the decision lifted restrictions on corporate campaign spending and gave rise to Super Pacs. But the broader implications are unclear. If Citizens United gives companies free rein to mobilize their resources politically as they wish, one former FEC official suggests that employees could be considered resources which companies may mobilize.

This is why the recent political turn of employee intimidation isn't an anomaly. It's an election year manifestation – aided by the supreme court – of fundamental power imbalances that exist in most workplaces. Brooklyn College political scientist Corey Robin sees a historical pattern:

"During the McCarthy years, the state outsourced the most significant forms of coercion and repression to the workplace. Fewer than 200 people went to jail for their political beliefs, but two out of every five American workers was investigated or subject to surveillance.
"Today, we're seeing a similar process of outsourcing. Government can't tell you how to vote, but it allows CEOs to do so."

Robin concluded:

When workers are forced to go to rallies in communist countries, we call that Stalinism. Here, we call it the free market. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+20 # luckyUS citizen 2012-10-28 14:31
How are they going to know who you voted for?
+16 # Jyllie 2012-10-28 16:06
Exactly. This is information employees should not divulge to anyone. Individual and group politics should be kept out of the workplace. I suppose the next question to be added to employment applications is "Are you a democrat or republican." Why is it that trains keep jumping the tracks?!
+9 # readerz 2012-10-28 23:18
Few people can keep a poker face all day every day. Would you be able to join in on a joke about Democrats? At the very least, the stress would be harmful. Sure, you don't have to talk about your views or wear political buttons, but it goes much farther than that. If you "like" anything on Facebook, join in blogs, it might be possible for the employer to find out.

They might not fire you either; they might be nice and just not promote you or give you raises. And people who mouth off and are conservative will be allowed to get away with it, swaying more opinions.
+3 # Rick Levy 2012-10-29 01:59
Carrying an Obama tote bag to work, as per the above mentioned example.
+4 # HowardMH 2012-10-29 09:16
luckyUS citizen – How are they going to know who you voted for? Because most of the Idiots can’t possibly keep their mouth shut. When 40% of republicans think Romney killed Ben Laden is there any real hope left?
Go 99ers Go. You are the only hope left for most of the people in the US who appear to be too stupid to even understand how bad they are being screwed by the Top 50 richest in the US who have totally bought and paid for ALL of the politicians at the state and federal level.
+25 # tswhiskers 2012-10-28 15:35
So, the big bosses are allowed to protect their own wealth at the expense of workers' jobs if they want to. We Americans are certainly finding out just how free we really are in these Republican times. We are learning that the right to vote is instead a gift to some and withdrawn from others who might vote for the "wrong" party, hardly a right at all. We are learning that women may not, in a few months, have self-determinat ion over their own bodies and lives, another non-right. We are learning that medical care incl. Obamacare, Medicare and Medicaid may no longer exist in a few months and that Soc. Sec., that bedrock social program we the people have depended on for nearly 80 years, may no longer exist for those under 55 or so. I, for one, have come to despise not only Reps. but even more, the Tea Party all gussied up in its 1776 regalia and "patriotic" virtue. The rich are motivated by noting more than greed and a total lack of care for the rest of the population. Love of country has been perverted by Reps. and the rich for their own shortsighted ends. We the people have kept ourselves uninformed as to the truth of what has been done to us and prefer to ignore it or we have eaten the pablum fed to us by the various sources of conservative media without ever questioning it. About the only thing that's still free is the free market.
+11 # readerz 2012-10-28 23:13
The free-market is probably going away today: the Supreme Court is hearing a case that may make yard sales illegal. Apparently, if you buy some property overseas, an appellate court ruled you can't resell it in the United States. Sure, those textbooks said "not for sale in the U.S.," but once somebody has paid the fair price and owns the books, they should be able to sell them. It's the publisher's fault for charging such a different price in different markets.

I'm in a club that used to exchange stuff in a kind of yard sale when we camped together, but that was stopped years ago and taxed (in Pennsylvania). These items were, at best, flea market items. No longer could people exchange anything. That is the kind of law that is about to be passed for everybody else, to fill the landfills faster.

Big business is allowed the trade agreements to make a bigger profit, but an individual is not allowed the same thing. Big business gets all kinds of tax breaks and subsidies; small individuals pay all kinds of extra taxes. The pro-big-busines s Supreme Court is about to prove again that they have no idea what country they are in or who they represent. But yes, there will be no more freedom.
+17 # Susan1989 2012-10-28 20:17
The Republican party is a tool of the corporate culture which is now rling the country. Check out the 14 characteristics of a facist state on google. You will be amazed and frightened at what you find.
+3 # btbees 2012-10-28 22:45
Susan1989's reading suggestion is an important read. The link is
+7 # df312 2012-10-28 23:00
The hell with them. Vote your way and don't tell. Nobody else's business. Lie if you have to in order to survive. Pray for them to have a horrible fate.
-6 # 2012-10-29 04:41
The question is ridiculous. Since no one from your employer can figure out who you voted for, there is no way to retaliate against a voter who chooses to vote for a candidate that the company opposes.

As long as we have secret ballots, employer-sponso red electioneering cannot be seen as intimidating. Similarly, unions should not be allowed to install themselves through card-checks which violate the secret ballot rules but should be required to be installed through proper secret ballot elections.

Intimidation can be very real but the would be bullies have to be able to identify their targets to be successful.

Lee Nason
New Bedford, Massachusetts
+7 # Regina 2012-10-29 08:11
Lee: The threat is categorical, not specific. The message is that if Obama wins, regardless of how the winning margin was attained, the mogul in question will fold his corporation and dump ALL its employees into unemployment. And that corporation could be reassembled in another country -- no one expects patriotism from the flag-waving righties. So there isn't even the assurance that if the employees were intimidated into voting for Romney, their jobs would be safe despite an Obama victory. Talk about bullies........
+1 # charsjcca 2012-10-29 07:49
They can, but how would they know? We live by secret ballot so all anyone really knows is that an individual did participate. I have voted regularly since 1958 and have never told anyone how I voted and why. So, how would my employer know if we participate by secret ballot?
+2 # Bill Clements 2012-10-29 09:47
Yes, as has been pointed out, it's one thing to get pressure from your boss regarding who to vote for, but another thing entirely for your boss to be in the voting booth with you or sitting at the kitchen table as you fill out your mail-in ballot.
+2 # Kootenay Coyote 2012-10-29 09:56
Welcome to NeoFeudalism rampant. Next, they’ll be expecting to screw your new bride or groom; Droit de Seigneur, it’s called.
+4 # M. de la Souche 2012-10-29 11:09
Regina has it exactly right in pointing out that the threat is categorical. While it is true that an employer could never truly know how a worker cast his ballot, it could be inferred by a bumper sticker, posts on social media, or (and this might sound a bit familiar) persons or organizations with whom that worker associates. What then? If the worker is called out and questioned about their political choices should they lie or tell the truth and risk some form retribution?

The point is: it should never come down to that--this is a door that, once opened, is extraordinarily difficult to close.

Look closely at the faces of the miners in the banner photo--none of them look too terribly happy to be there, and yet, there they stand. It can happen--it is happening, secret ballot and all.
+2 # WolfTotem 2012-10-29 15:06
Curiouser and curiouser, this purest Soviet style in the hands of supposedly right-wing Americans!

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

George Orwell: ANIMAL FARM
+2 # dbashaggy 2012-10-29 18:29
Rather a stupid idea of these business owners. Don't they know that when the economy gets better, and it always does, that they may lose some of their best fact, they can lose their best workers even in bad times. Also, unmotivated workers can affect their business in many ways, among them in lower productivity. Finally, the word usually gets out about how a workplace treats their employees, and the best workers may never consider working for them if their ideologies clash.

Not a good idea to alienate a good part of the workforce that you depend upon to keep your company in profit, and in good name in the community. But as my father used to tell me (he consulted with many businesses), "don't assume someone running a business is any smarter than you are. In fact, odds are you are smarter than they are about most things."
+1 # WolfTotem 2012-10-30 06:08
This kind of thing will happen wherever plutocracy gains the upper hand.

Just now, there's a scandal in France with the giant Swedish furniture corporation IKEA in trouble for spying on its staff and customers.

Probably just the tip of the iceberg...

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