Florida magnate threatens firings if Obama wins

Shades of 1896: A Florida-based time-share magnate, billionaire David Siegel, is threatening to fire workers if a Democratic Party’s presidential nominee – in this case, incumbent Barack Obama – wins the November election.

In an Oct. 8 e-mail to all 8,000 workers at Westgate Resorts nationwide, Siegel stated if Obama wins and “enacts more corporate taxes,” Siegel would have no choice but to fire people. Media in cities with Westgate properties, including in the swing states of Florida and Arizona, picked up his threat – as did media as far away as India.

Siegel’s e-mail and a similar, but milder, comment by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney earlier this year, did not surprise AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who said unionists have seen increasing instances of such business coercion this year

“Apparently, Romney doesn’t believe in workplace democracy,” Trumka said. “As more and more reports of employer coercion of workers’ political rights emerge, it is clear Romney’s disdain for workplace rights is not unique. In fact, employer communications to workers we are seeing include both direct and implicit threats and scare tactics to make employees fear for their jobs if Obama wins.

“These are the same tactics employers use against workers trying to organize. The Supreme Court has long recognized that even what appears on its face to be mere persuasion becomes inherently coercive when it’s an employer urging its employees to take particular actions.”

Siegel’s e-mail harkens back to the 1896 presidential race between business-backed GOP nominee William McKinley and fiery Democratic and pro-worker populist William Jennings Bryan. McKinley’s campaign was one of the first, if not the first, presidential drive to be fueled by millions of dollars in corporate campaign cash.

The1896 race was also notable for industrialists telling their workers: “If Bryan wins on Tuesday, don’t come in on Wednesday.” That threat, the cash and lingering hatred of the Democrats for their ties to Southern racists who caused the Civil War – McKinley was a Civil War veteran, Bryan was not – produced a McKinley landslide.

Siegel did not name Romney in the e-mail. Indeed, Siegel piously wrote he was not telling workers whom to back. His e-mail was revealed by ThinkProgress, a blog for the progressive Center for American Progress think tank.

Siegel’s first key passage: “The economy doesn’t currently pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job, however, is another four years of the same presidential administration. Of course, as your employer, I can’t tell you whom to vote for, and I certainly wouldn’t interfere with your right to vote for whomever you choose. In fact, I encourage you to vote for whomever you think will serve your interests the best.

Then Siegel abandons that stance: “Let me share a few facts that might help you decide what is in your best interest…It’s quite simple. 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. Rather than grow this company, I will be forced to cut back. This means fewer jobs, less benefits and certainly less opportunity for everyone.

“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.”

Siegel even defends the 1%, using that figure, by telling his workers that if they lose their jobs it won’t be at the hands of the elite – such as himself – but due to “a political hurricane that has swept this country.”

Siegel is not the only corporate mogul to tie an Obama win to workers’ economic well being – or lack of it. The notorious Koch brothers are following a similar line.

The Kochs are vicious anti-worker, oil-and-other-enterprises magnates who’ve pumped $100 million so far into radical right-GOP-big business causes and candidates. Their mid-October mailing to 45,000 workers had down-the-line GOP endorsements, a pro-Romney op-ed by one Koch and an anti-Obama op-ed by the other. But in the mailing to Georgia Pacific workers in Oregon, Koch Enterprises chief operating officer Dave Robertson did not threaten to close GP or fire workers.

“If we elect candidates who want to spend hundreds of billions in borrowed money,” impose new regulations on business, “prevent or delay important new construction” – an implicit reference to the Keystone XL pipeline – or “excessively hinder free trade, many of our more than 50,000 employees and contractors may suffer the consequences,” Robertson warned. He said results would include “higher gasoline prices, runaway inflation and other ills.” Robertson left those other ills unspecified.

Romney, in an interactive town hall video in June with the radical right National Federation of Independent Business, didn’t go as far. The video, posted on YouTube by In These Times, shows Romney stuck to the letter of the law, but left a clear impression with his listeners.

“I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections,” Romney said. “Nothing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business, because I think that will figure into their election decision, their voting decision.”

Photo: Billionaires for Romney Facebook page


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.