Thanks to Citizens United, it is perfectly legal for your employer to tell you who to vote for, and its becoming increasingly common. Corey Robin has some examples. The entire piece is quite good, you should just go read it. He notes not only examples of companies exercising their “free speech” by telling their employees how they should vote, but of attempts to limit those employees own freedom of speech. Today, a recording of Mitt Romney encouraging employers to tell their employees how to vote was released.
This is coercion, plain and simple. It will no doubt be defended as an economic argument, They didn’t say vote or you’re fired, they said if the wrong guy wins the economy will go to hell and you’ll get laid off, and I suppose that is technically true. The coercive power, though, is the same. I am well aware that freedom of speech refers to the freedom from government reprisal, and I have often argued that freedom of speech is not freedom from consequence. In this case though, I don’t believe freedom of speech holds up as a defense. Free elections are critical to a democracy. If we allow people in a position of power to threaten, either directly or implicitly, negative consequences for voting in a way they don’t like, then we do not have free elections. No one should have to be faced with the choice of voting their conscience or losing their job.
This is yet another consequence of inequality in America. Those with the means to lose their job will be able to ignore their employer and vote their conscience, those without those means will not. The typical “free markets” argument here goes that if you don’t like your company’s policy, you should quit. Companies that hold these noxious policies won’t be able to attract good employees and will fail, and so the problem will be resolved. That sounds fantastic in an economics classroom. In the real world, though, its horse shit. Some people, maybe even most people, may have the luxury to quit their job over a principled disagreement. There will remain many, though, who do not. For any number of reasons, there are quite a few people who simply cannot quit their job, regardless of what indignities or abuses they are subject to. The consequences, for them, would be worse than enduring. Perhaps they’ll lose their healthcare and be unable to get it back. Perhaps they simply can’t afford to miss a paycheck or perhaps they can’t leave town and have no other options locally. Whatever the case may be, quite a few people are at the mercy of their employer. If they are told to vote a certain way or lose their job, they will. Folks who support Citizens United on free speech grounds often talk about the coercive power of the State. But it seems like they are happy to ignore completely the coercive power of employers. For example:
the largest privately held coal company in the nation, Murray Energy, has routinely coerced its employees in to giving to GOP candidates. In the process, Murray Energy workers became the second largest block of donors to Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner’s 2009-2010 coffers. “We have been insulted by every salaried employee who does not support our efforts,” wrote company CEO Robert Murray in a March 2012 letter to employees obtained by The New Republic; attached was a list of employees who had not yet attended fundraisers.
A September 2010 letter lamenting insufficient contributions to the company PAC is more pointed. “The response to this letter of appeal has been poor,” Murray writes. “We have only a little over a month left to go in this election fight. If we do not win it, the coal industry will be eliminated and so will your job, if you want to remain in this industry.”
We cannot allow people to be coerced into voting a certain way. That’s not freedom. Say what you will about the rest of Citizens United, but it absolutely must not ever be legal for an employer to attempt to coerce an employees vote. This is about as far from freedom and democracy as can be, and it is supported by the Supreme Court Of The United States.
Corporations are people too, my friend. Actual people, on the other hand, can fuck off.
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