Nov. 03--As Election Day nears, more business owners and executives are emphasizing to their employees how important it is to vote in the presidential race --and in some cases, at least subtly, who to vote for.
One Ohio business owner put information about Republican Mitt Romney in employees' mailboxes and offered to reimburse the ticket price for employees who saw 2016: Obama's America, a movie critical of Democratic President Barack Obama.
Another executive, Scott Farmer, CEO of Cintas Corp. based near Cincinnati, whose family members are major GOP financial contributors, blasted out an email to 30,000 employees last month in which he outlined his criticisms of "Obamacare" and the impact he believes it could have on his uniform-supply business.
"These decisions and policies could also have a significant impact on Cintas --on our ability to run our business effectively and efficiently, on our ability to attract and retain customers and on our ability to provide the level of benefits, opportunities, and development we believe our partners want, need and deserve."
Business owners say what they're doing is proper and is no different from what labor unions have done for years by keeping their members in line to vote, mostly for Democratic candidates.
Paul Secunda, a Marquette University professor specializing in labor and employment law, said there's a fine line between an employer predicting what will happen if a specific candidate wins or loses, and threats aimed at steering employee votes. The line was smudged by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision in the Citizens United case, Secunda said. The ruling, which said the government could not prohibit political expenditures by corporations and unions, "emboldened employers," he said.
When the head of a business tells employees that voting for or against a specific candidate might put their jobs at risk, "that's a message that's very hard for employees to ignore in this economy," Secunda said.
Unions have a strong influence over their members' voting habits, but "don't have the ability to fire or discipline employees," Secunda said.
Ohio has had a law on the books since 1953 prohibiting anyone from doing anything to "induce or compel" someone to "vote or refrain from voting for or against any person" in an election. It is punishable by a maximum $500 fine.
Tim Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, charged that what business leaders are doing "is inappropriate and in many cases intimidation. ... Certainly, we talk to our members about the issues we think are important to them. But we don't control their paychecks. It's a different process altogether."
Keith Lake, managing director of government affairs for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber isn't coordinating candidate-oriented political efforts, but individual businesses might be doing it on their own. "We want employees to know what this is doing to the bottom line," Lake said.
A recent report by the Washington-based Business Industry Political Action Committee concluded that most employees aren't concerned that employer communication could "adversely affect voting behavior." Greg Casey, head of the BIPAC, said, "Employees have a right to know how policy and election outcomes will affect their jobs and their lives. Employers have a responsibility to share credible information with employees and let them make up their own minds."
Portsmouth, Ohio, car dealer Tim Glockner recently told employees in an email that he didn't want to tell them who to vote for. But he went on to say, "The choice for president seems quite simple. New taxes will hurt the health of our business. This could mean fewer jobs, less benefits and certainly less opportunity for everyone. When you make your decision ask yourself which candidate better understands the economics of business ownership?"
(c)2012 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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