Who Owns Your Politics?

The Emergence of Employee Mobilization as a Source of Corporate Political Influence
Policy Paper
July 7, 2015

A common piece of advice for new hires is to avoid talking about politics, sex, and religion in the workplace. But it may be increasingly difficult for workers to keep their politics to themselves. Thanks to the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision from 2010, as well as new organizational infrastructure developed over the past decade, employers now have broad legal rights and the technical means to campaign for political candidates in the workplace. Managers and supervisors can even require that their workers participate in politics as a condition of employment.

Employer mobilization is important to understand because it offers companies an opportunity to shape public policy using a resource already at their disposal: their workforce. Debates over corporate lobbying and the power of business in politics thus ought to consider employer mobilization just as much as they focus on campaign contributions and lobbyists.

This policy brief provides an important contribution to our understanding of the prevalence of employer mobilization and how firms think about mobilization as a political strategy. Subsequent sections document the history of employer mobilization, tracing the social, economic, and political shifts that have made mobilization more appealing to firms in recent decades. The final portion of this brief describes why and how political reformers should take action to end the most coercive forms of employer mobilization, suggesting a range of possible legislative and voluntary actions that would shield workers from political intimidation in the workplace.

Alexander Hertel-Fernandez is a doctoral candidate in government and social policy at Harvard University. He studies the political economy of the United States, with an emphasis on the politics of organized interests, especially business, and public policy.

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