Orlando, Fla., time-share mogul David Siegel has told his 7,000 employees that if Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is not elected, he may have to lay people off -- and might even retire and take their "opportunities" with him to a beach in the Caribbean.
In a e-mail to all his employees, Siegel said that he did not want to tell them how to vote -- but wanted them to know that another four years of President Barack Obama could make it tough for him to keep people employed.
"You see, I can no longer support a system that penalizes the productive and gives to the unproductive," he concludes. "My motivation to work and to provide jobs will be destroyed, and with it, so will your opportunities. If that happens, you can find me in the Caribbean sitting on the beach, under a palm tree, retired, and with no employees to worry about.
"Signed, your boss."
Siegel founded Westgate Resorts of Orlando, which employs about 3,200 people in Central Florida and thousands more in cities such as Las Vegas, Branson, Mo., and Gatlinburg, Tenn.
Often outspoken and sometimes flamboyant, Siegel and his wife Jacqueline achieved celebrity through a satirical documentary movie released this summer, called "The Queen of Versailles." It follows their effort to build a 90,000-square-foot mansion on Lake Butler.
Siegel confirmed Tuesday that he sent the e-mail, saying he felt an "obligation to keep them informed."
"Four years ago when Obama got elected we were doing a billion dollars a year in sales with 12,000 employees," he told the Orlando Sentinel. "As a result of the last four years, we are down to 7,000... We're still a viable company, but if they start taking money out of my pocket with higher taxes and ObamaCare, there's going to be less money to build resorts."
Even before Obama was elected in November 2008, though, Siegel was saying the time-share business was bad and getting worse. That September, he had announced that he was shutting down some of the company's sales operations and preparing to lay off hundreds. At the time, the nationwide financial meltdown had caused a financing squeeze that Siegel said came on with the suddenness of a "heart attack."
Much of this week's e-mail message is Siegel's recounting of what he says was a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice.
"Even to this day, every dime I earn goes back into this company," he wrote. "Over the past four years I have had to stop building my dream house, cut back on all of my expenses, and take my kids out of private schools simply to keep this company strong and to keep you employed..."
"So, when you make your decision to vote, ask yourself, which candidate understands the economics of business ownership and who doesn't? Whose policies will endanger your job? Answer those questions and you should know who might be the one capable of protecting and saving your job," he concluded.
The e-mail was forwarded anonymously to the Sentinel by someone who said, "I feel like my boss is threatening me."
As the head of a privately held company, Siegel has the right to employ or lay off anyone for any reason, provided he does not break other laws, said Heather Vogel, president of HR Florida, the state affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management.
Still, Vogel said, "They're really walking a fine line there."
The state has a law called, "Threats of Employers to Control Votes of Employees," but it applies only to state, local and municipal -- not federal -- elections. The Federal Election Commission referred the Sentinel to the U.S. Department of Labor. That agency was not able to respond to a late-afternoon inquiry Tuesday.
When asked about intimidation, Siegel said that was not his intent.
"If an employee walked into my office right now and said, 'I voted for Obama,' I'd say 'Fine. I'm glad you exercised your right to vote,'" he said.
Siegel has said that in 2000, he strongly encouraged his employees to vote for George W. Bush and ran a "big sales campaign" for him. But when asked in the movie what he did to help Bush, he said, "I'd rather not say, because it may not necessarily have been legal."
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