Bully Bosses Threaten Democracy

Companies forcing employees to attend political rallies or vote for a specific candidate threaten American representative democracy.

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Voting ballots are stacked and ready as voters wait in line to cast their ballot Tuesday, June 5, 2012, in Milwaukee. Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker is taking on Democratic challenger Tom Barrett in a recall election.

The Company Store, a pre-union institution wherein underpaid workers were all but required to buy items from a shop owned by their employer, is thankfully gone. The 21st century version is far more insidious: the Company Vote.

There were the coal miners in Ohio who were required to attend a rally for Mitt Romney—without pay, even thought they had been taken off the job to do it. Footage of the rally was used in a Romney TV ad. Bizarrely, Murray Energy Chief Financial Officer Rob Moore explained that the miners were required to come, except that they weren't. He told a local radio station:

We had managers that communicated [to employees] that the attendance was mandatory. But no one was forced to attend the event.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney.]

The New Republic later reported an even worse transgression—that Moore, a Romney donor, had pressured the company's workers to donate to the Republican nominee.

And if pressure doesn't work, try threats. That's what David Siegel, the billionaire owner of a massive time-share company, did in a memo to employees, in which he stated:

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. You see, I can longer support a system that penalizes the productive and gives to the unproductive. My motivation to work and to provide jobs will be destroyed, and with it, so will your opportunities.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

If Siegel's name sound familiar, it's because he's in the movies—showcasing his greed, not displaying his talent. Siegel and his wife—who perfects the Real Housewives technique of looking like she spends a great deal of money to look cheap—are the subjects of the acclaimed The Queen of Versailles, a documentary film about the couple's efforts to build the largest privately-owned home in the country. That displays a level of self-centeredness and insecurity that is almost clinical in scale. But Siegel's effort to intimidate workers is appalling.

Remarkably, Siegel told Reuters that his firm was doing quite well during the recession—he told the news agency his company, Westgate, was the most profitable it had been in its 30-year history, was hiring 1,500 new employees this year, and that banks were "throwing money at us."

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

And yet, Siegel was more foreboding in his memo to workers, saying:

The economy doesn't currently pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job however, is another 4 years of the same Presidential administration.

There's a serious threat here, but it's not to Siegel's obscene wealth and even more profane greed. The threat is to representative democracy. Siegel's a successful businessman, and he's entitled to do (mostly) what he want with his money—perhaps even building monuments to himself. He is not entitled to extort votes.

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