The girl is 19. She got a job in a small business; probably her first foray into the corporate world, such as it is. Part of her ascension to adulthood is being able to vote in a presidential election for the first time. Unlike too many folks, she is excited by the prospect.
In a common area in her workplace, she mentions to co-workers that she is undecided about how she’ll cast that vote. Later that day, her boss, the business’ owner, seeks her out and takes her aside for what turns out to be an extended conversation about why she needs to vote for Mitt Romney. Some of the co-workers overhear and later ask her for whom she’ll be voting November 6. Bet you can guess.
This occurred in a shop outside Birmingham, but conversations like these are likely happening all over the country, if the Republican contender has his way. On June 6, speaking on a conference call arranged by the National Federation of Small Business, Gov. Romney suggested that employers should actively proselytize. “I particularly think that our young kids—and when I say young, I mean college-age and high-school age—they need to understand that America runs on a strong vibrant business,” he stated somewhat awkwardly. “So I need you to get out there and campaign.”
Was the governor talking about knocking on doors or buttonholing workers? “I hope you make 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,” he said.
Isn’t that against the law? Mitt said not: “Nothing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business, because I think that will figure into their election decision, their voting decision, and, of course, doing that with your family and your kids as well.”
Syntax notwithstanding, he’s right, as Mike Elk of In These Times wrote last week, quoting University of Marquette law professor Paul Secunda who said, “There is not much political protection for at-will employees in the private sector workplace.”
Other examples have surfaced. Florida time-share billionaire David Siegel took a subtle approach, e-mailing the 7,000 employees of Westgate Resorts with news that, if President Obama is re-elected, he’ll be obliged to lay people off: “If you lose your job, it won’t be at the hands of the ‘1%’; it will be at the hands of a political hurricane that swept through this country.”
While you ponder the concept of a hurricane’s hands, ponder as well another discovery by In These Times. Koch Industries, as it did in 2010, is sending unsolicited voting guidance to employees of some of its holdings. Georgia-Pacific’s workers, for example, received a packet including pro-Romney newspaper editorials, a list of candidates supported by Koch Industries and dark intimations about what might happen if unsupported candidates get elected: “Many of our more than 50,000 employees and contractors may suffer the consequences, including higher gasoline prices, runaway inflation and other ills.”
As political speech for corporations increases, political speech for their workers diminishes, especially if the possibility of economic recrimination exists. Elk cited the experience of a G-P employee who applied for a foreman’s position, only to be turned down as “too political,” because of opinions he posted online. Another employee was reluctant to post anything politically charged on Facebook for fear of being fired.
I like what Alex MacGillis of The New Republic concluded about employer strong-arming. “While it is not illegal, it strikes many of us as, well, wrong,” he wrote last week. “It seems especially so today because it comes as another example of the great imbalance of power in the workplace—at a time when workers are all the less likely to be in a union and all the more likely to fear the consequences of being out of work, they are in a very vulnerable position when it comes to this kind of pressure. Yes, we have a secret ballot, and their boss won’t know their vote. But what will such pressure do to their willingness to volunteer for the other guy, or donate money, or talk politics with their colleagues?”
Which brings us back to that 19-year-old and the GOP counsel from her boss. I don’t know that she got leaned on to vote for Romney. More likely, she became an accidental victim of the father-knows-best mentality pervasive among Alabama Republicans. I would say to her, or to anyone else who feels pressured by the boss to vote a certain way, that you don’t have to take the easy way out, tempting though it be. There is a prodigious amount of information available about the candidates on this year’s ballot, and if you’re serious about making the best choice you can, then it’s worth your effort to do the research, preferably as far away from talk radio and cable news as you can get.
Not registered yet? You’ve got till Friday, and you don’t even have to hunt down the board of registrars. The library, the driver’s license line and public assistance offices are just some of the places where you can register, and www.alabamavotes.gov can tell you more.
You don’t even have to vote for a Republican or a Democrat for president. Here in progressive Alabama, you have the additional options of backing Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party or Jill Stein of the Green Party. (Naturally, Alabama isn’t progressive enough to call their parties by name; on the ballot each of these three is listed only as “Independent.”)
Down-ballot candidates, constitutional amendments: yep, there’s homework involved. You’d have to do some if you came to this country to become a citizen, and you don’t get a mulligan just because you were born here. Get informed before you get to the polls.