A Philosopher's Blog

Coercing the Vote

Posted in Business, Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 11, 2012
Official photographic portrait of US President...

Vote for this man and get fired? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

David Siegal, the Florida real estate tycoon who claimed he was responsible for Bush’s 2000 victory, recently sent a rather interesting email to his employees. While Siegal is careful to avoid directly threatening his employees, he does say that “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.”

On the one hand, this can be taken as merely a statement of fact and not a threat that he will fire people if Obama gets elected. That is, the email could be interpreted as simply Siegal saying that if taxes are raised, then he will have no option but to fire people.

Since Siegal does have the choice to do other things (he could lower salaries, including his own compensation rather than fire people), he seems to be presenting a false dilemma. Of course, perhaps he is simply reporting that he will, in fact, just fire people if taxes go up-even if there is no need to do so and there are other options. On  certain moral views, he would have every right to do so. Of course, those same moral views would also morally allow people to walk by a dying Siegal without lifting a finger to help him.

On the other hand, this seems like a rather clear case of innuendo and scare tactics.  After all, he did claim to be the person who made Bush’s election possible and even hinted that he might have used illegal methods. As such, by his own professed narrative, threatening employees would seem to something he could do.

In any case, Siegal’s email seems to be aimed at threatening his employees with termination if Obama is re-elected. That is, on this interpretation he is trying to intimidate the workers into voting for Romney. If this is true, then his actions are certainly immoral an contrary to the principles of democracy. The apparent implied threat could also be taken as creating a hostile work environment which could be grounds for a lawsuit.

Naturally, it can be countered that he was just expressing  company policy and preparing his employees to be fired in the event that Obama is re-elected and raises taxes. However, one might think that an ethical professional would  present a report indicating the impact of proposed tax increases on the company’s revenue and develop a rational response plan with various options.

It could even be argued that employers have the right to motivate employees to vote a certain way as a condition of employment. After all, some folks contend that people have no right to employment and job creators should have free reign to do as they will.

As might be imagined, I regard such coercion or even the appearance of coercion to be morally unacceptable. While an employer should certainly have business plans in place for various occurrences, sending out a general email that seems to imply that employees should vote for Romney unless they want to be fired is wrong. After all, even if the intent is not to coerce employees that would certainly not be an unreasonable interpretation. After all, if I got an email from my university noting that if Obama is not re-elected, then I would be fired, I would take that as an implied threat.

 

 

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7 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on October 11, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Mike, have you followed this story? Is it possible that Siegal was required by law to provide such notice to his employees under the WARN act?

    The White House moved to prevent defense and other government contractors from issuing mass layoff notices in anticipation of sequestration, even going so far to say that the contracting agencies would cover any potential litigation costs or employee compensation costs that could follow.

    Some defense companies—including Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and EADS North America—have said they expect to send notices to their employees 60 days before sequestration takes effect to comply with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires companies to give advance warning to workers deemed reasonably likely to lose their jobs. Companies appeared undeterred by a July 30 guidance from the Labor Department, which said issuing such notices would be inappropriate, due to the possibility that sequestration may be averted. The Labor Department also said companies do not have enough information about how the cuts might be implemented to determine which workers or specific programs could be affected should Congress fail to reach a compromise to reduce the deficit, triggering $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, half from defense, half non-defense. For 2013, that would amount to $109 billion in spending cuts.

    http://hotair.com/archives/2012/09/29/obama-administration-tries-to-block-sequester-layoff-notices/

    • magus71 said, on October 11, 2012 at 9:49 pm

      Nevermind, TJ. Mike’s in full campaign mode. I on the other hand am just standing by as the page on this rather sorry chapter in US history turns. Good-bye to the administration that tried, and almost succeeded in turning America into a bumbling, sorrowful giant.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 12, 2012 at 5:42 am

        I would think that any person who believes in a democratic process would be against people being threatened into voting a certain way. If Democrats engage in such tactics, I would also oppose their actions.

        While I do get cast as a Democrat, I am not a party man. Rather, I am committed to a set of core principles and these include a right to make political choices without being coerced.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 12, 2012 at 5:34 am

      I have. Two points.
      1. Siegal is a real estate mogul, not a defense contractor. I do not have his full asset portfolio, but I don’t think he is a major government contractor (unless the feds do timeshares in Florida).

      2. His email is not on the lines of “if sequestration occurs, then I’ll have to fire some of you” but rather “if Obama raises taxes, I have no choice but to fire some of you.” As such, there appears to be no connection at all to WARN.

      • T. J. Babson said, on October 12, 2012 at 9:12 am

        I’m missing the difference between sequestration and raising taxes. In each case, a company will have less money to pay workers and will have to let some go.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 12, 2012 at 9:36 am

          In terms of the impact, the result would be similar. As you note, if a company has its taxes increased to X by the state or it has its state contracts decreased by X, then the company is down X dollars.

          However, the sequestration is not a tax. That is, the state is not taking money from a business. Instead, it would be spending less. To use an analogy, if my employer cuts my salary by 10% this would have roughly the same impact as having my costs increase by 10%. However, there seems to be a meaningful difference between a pay cut and an increase in taxes.

          As I noted, it is a false dilemma to say “either taxes do not increase or employers must be fired.” After all, an employer has other options-especially someone as incredibly wealthy as Siegal (he is the guy who was going to build a giant mansion). He might simply decide to fire people, but it is not the case that he has no other options. He could lower salaries, reduce profit, increase productivity and so on. The fact that he tells his workers that he’ll have to fire some if Obama gets elected and raises taxes seems to be a case of attempted coercion.

          Also, in terms of the context of the main issue, the sequestration is not the same as Obama raising taxes. After all, the sequestration goes into effect regardless of who is president and, of course, Siegal’s clear reference was to Obama being re-elected and raising taxes.

          However, suppose that we assume that the sequestration is identical to raising taxes. Even with this assumption, sequestration still has no relevance on Siegal’s email. After all, my main point is that the email seems to be a clear case of an implied threat regarding voting.

  2. WTP said, on October 18, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    Lying liars and the lies the lying liars lie their lying lies about…


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