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Morning Sun
  • OUR VIEW: Freedom of speech or coercion of employees?

  • The major political parties have made a battleground out of many things, the least of which is vocabulary. To one, the rich are referred to as “the 1 percent.” To the other, they are the “job creators.”

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  • The major political parties have made a battleground out of many things, the least of which is vocabulary. To one, the rich are referred to as “the 1 percent.” To the other, they are the “job creators.”
    This battleground of vocabulary has become a battleground in the workplace in some companies.
    The line between political participation and voter intimidation appears to be in the process of being blurred.
    The CEOs of several companies have sent out company-wide e-mails in the last few weeks detailing the dangers of voting for President Obama.
    Parts of the emails sound well within the boundaries of free speech: “If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current President plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company,” read the e-mail from David Siegel, founder and CEO of Westgate Resorts.
    That sounds intimidating, but could easily read like a legitimate business interest and attacking a specific policy, within the protection of free speech.
    But that’s not the case of some of the other statements, such as this one from ASG Software Solutions CEO Arthur Allen:
    “If we fail as a nation to make the right choice on November 6, and we lose our independence as a company, I don’t want to hear any complaints about the fallout that will most likely come.” That sounds like intimidation.
    It’s not as if these company-wide memos are only limited to two companies.
    Much is made of the political influence wielded by Wichita’s Koch brothers through the dollars they spend on political campaigns. They also have used the workplace to wield political influence. More than 45,000 employees in the Georgia Pacific subsidiary were sent “voter information packets” in the last weeks.
    On one hand, these voter information packets do include voter registration information and other, general ways to engage in the politica process. That is great.
    It also includes candidates supported by the employee political action committee and editorials by the company’s top leaders for Romney and against Obama and a veiled threat to the “consequences” of one’s political choices. That last part bothers us.
    The CEO of one company, Murray Energy, the largest privately owned coal company in the country, wrote a letter to employees that said, “We have been insulted by every salaried employee who does not support our efforts.”
    He also included a list of employees who had not attended a political fundraiser.
    We would note that although the examples listed above all are pro-Romney supporters, it’s unlikely that such e-mails don’t happen on both sides, or on a Congressional, state or local level.
    It just happens that these incidents have been newsmakers lately.
    Page 2 of 2 - Is there a line between freedom of speech and political intimidation? We believe so, and it comes down to a simple test: What would happen if the shoe was on the other foot?
    What would happen if a random employee filled the mailboxes of his coworkers with political materials? What if an employee warned about the “consequences” of voting for Mitt Romney or listed the company members who had not attended an Obama fundraiser?
    If random employee X is allowed to have the same opportunity and platform, then it seems to us that no abuse of power exists.
    But if that random employee were to be limited from having equal opportunity or would face some repercussions for their political stances, then it would appear to us to be an abuse of power by the business leaders.
    What we are not saying is that businesses must be neutral and neutered in the political process. That’s not the case.
    Businesses do have a voice, and have a right to use it.
    What we are saying is that businessmen who use the voice granted to them by their position in the company as a megaphone are using their voice the wrong way.
    The political process is confusing enough. There are enough influences and voices and questions in politics already.
    Leave the politics in the political realm. Leave them out of the workplace.
     — for The Morning Sun

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