How American corporations are recruiting employees into politics.
In his first book, Hertel-Fernandez (International and Public Affairs/Columbia Univ.) seeks to “systematically assess” the many ways in which companies mobilize workers to vote and lobby in their interests. A pharmaceutical company asks employees to lobby for an extension on patents. A chemical firm urges workers to contact legislators regarding pending action on chemical storage. A coal company mandates that miners attend (without pay) a campaign rally for a GOP presidential hopeful. Using websites, posters, emails, and other modes of communication, such “widespread” corporate practices have become a “new means of shaping elections and policy debates.” The political messages—received from their bosses by a quarter of all workers—often carry “a potential threat of retaliation.” They are proving effective in shaping public policy and helping elect business-friendly GOP candidates, and as the author points out, “there are no federal legal protections for employees who are fired or retaliated against for refusing to participate in political activities.” Based on substantial original data—including national surveys, interviews, and archival research—on a topic seldom explored by academics, the book recounts earlier company efforts to mobilize workers (GE in the 1950s, etc.) and the dwindling of such activity until the 2000s, when technological advances, increased regulation and labor unrest, and the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision spurred an outburst of corporate action. Hertel-Fernandez covers most aspects of these practices, including one drug company’s incentive program under which employees earn points for each political activity in which they participate. The employee in each sales region with the most points at the end of the year wins an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C. The author urges reforms to curb “the most coercive and troubling” practices.
Replete with charts and lengthy appendices, this academic study is often dry, but it is also a remarkably important trove of new information for specialists and anyone else interested in the forces at work in modern politics.