Bosses threaten workers: Vote my way or else

WASHINGTON – About 25 percent of workers in a study done at Harvard University report that their employers send them messages having nothing to do with work and everything to do with politics. Some of the workers say their bosses use implied threats to push them to vote a certain way.

Workers don’t like the pressure, the author of the report states. He wrote that “seventy percent of those surveyed favored limits on political campaigning in the workplace.”

Only twelve percent of these same workers report receiving political messages from their union.

The study, by Harvard University doctoral candidate Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, was published by the American Political Science Association.

Another study, by Ilona Babenko, an Arizona State University business professor, shows that workers are caving in to employer pressure to contribute to candidates the employers support.

CEO and employee campaign contributions “track” each other where the CEO “made his or her political preference known,” the study says, even though the workers “typically have different socioeconomic characteristics from those of CEOs and may favor different political outcomes.”

The study also states that “consistent with the idea that CEOs have direct influence over their employees’ political choices, [is the fact that] the link between CEO and employee campaign contributions is strongest in firms that explicitly advocate for political candidates.”

Employer threats to worker livelihoods for political reasons have been around at least since the 1890s, Hertel-Fernandez notes. Most recently, pro-Romney employers leveled such threats in 2012.

The Hertel-Fernandez study shows that of the 25 percent of workers receiving political messages from the bosses, eleven percent got information about voter registration and turnout, with the rest evenly split between issues and legislation, candidates and political parties. Forty seven percent of workers said they agreed with the bosses’ messages. The rest (28 percent) had no opinion or opposed the boss (25 percent).

Some 43 percent of employer messages were conservative and another 30 percent were moderate. “Well over half of contacted workers reported they received messages from their employers that ran contrary to their own political beliefs, for instance, liberal workers who were contacted by conservative employers,” Hertel-Fernandez discovered.

Twenty percent of the 391 firms Hertel-Fernandez surveyed included threats of job loss, plant closure or changes in wages and hours if workers didn’t go along with their employers’ political positions. “Twenty percent of workers contacted by their bosses reported their employer included at least one such warning,” Hertel-Fernandez reported

“If employers make a political request of their workers while also incorporating an explicit or implicit warning about job losses or wage cuts, workers might feel pressured to follow through on their employer’s request-even if workers might not agree with their employer’s position,” Hertel-Fernandez wrote.

“This economic pressure might well violate workers’ political liberty.

“These concerns are likely to be magnified as economic pressures on workers – such as the decline of the labor movement and low-wage competition -continue to mount,” Hertel-Ferdanez wrote.

Photo: stock photo


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.