How will the Election Affect Your Business, Your Job & Your Future
On Tuesday, November 4th, we will elect a Governor who either agrees with CEMAís free market view of energy markets or a Governor who will continue on a path to work with natural gas utilities to take more than 40% of the oil and propane customers and convert them to natural gas. With only a few days left before election day, it is not too late to get involved and make a difference in the outcome. First you need to make sure that you are registered to vote and that your family, friends and employees get information on what they need to do to get registered (see below). You also need to do everything in your power to educate everyone that relies on the heating oil and propane industry to earn an living what four more years of the Malloy administration would mean to them and their families. We will hold a conference call tomorrow (Friday the 31st) at 10:00am to walk you and anyone you wish to invite through the issues that are in play this year, how it effects our industry, and what they can do to influence change in Hartford. To participate in the call dial 857-232-0155 and enter code 928162. We encourage you to invite as many people to join the call as you like.
Next week, Tuesday November 4th will be a decisive date in the history of the petroleum industry in Connecticut. We believe the choice between the candidates is clear and it's vital that your employees and family go out and vote for our industry! The first step is to make sure you, your employees, family members and friends are registered to vote. To do so, you need to register in person at the town hall where you live. You'll need to take with you a picture ID and proof of residence, such as a driver's license and mail you received with your name and address on it. Again, that's what you need if you go down to town hall to register in person between now and election day. For more information on how to register go here.
As leaders in the petroleum industry, you have wide discretion in informing your employees of the facts concerning how state policy effects your company, our industry, and the people who work for you. You should be talking to employees about issues that affect them and their families. On the motor fuels side of the industry, the Governor left our members with $100 million in unpaid underground storage tank fund claims, and in an insulting cost cutting move offered them 20 to 30 cents on the dollar to pay them what they are owed. He further cut the program in its entirety requiring UST owners to obtain private insurance, while keeping the 8.81% petroleum gross earnings tax that was dedicated to cleanup up leaking USTís in place. The Governorís policy on the heating oil side is no secret! He is aggressively trying to expand that natural gas infrastructure by 900 miles of new lines and convert 300,000 oil and propane customers to gas over the next 10 years.
Both of these policies will impact your business and your employees so it is time to talk to them before election day arrives!
As a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court case of 2010, "employers remain largely free to argue to their employees how the employees should vote, and to warn of dire economic consequences for the employer - and therefore to the employees - if an election comes out a particular way. The mere possibility that some employees will take any message from their employer as coercive does not strip the employer of its constitutional rights. If the employer threatens reprisals 'to be taken solely on [its] own volition,' for instance because of management pique, that speech would indeed be treated as a constitutionally unprotected, and could lead to civil liability or even criminal punishment [which is a class D felony in Connecticut - see below]. But if the employer is making an argument based on projected economic consequences 'beyond the employer's control,' such as forecast greater regulation, higher taxes, and so on, then that speech is constitutionally protected."(source) Other articles on this topic were published by The New York Times; CNBC; and Forbes which reports that employees like to receive and trust such information from their employers. Please also keep in mind that you may come across the employee who is very partisan and favors the governor's reelection, perhaps because of a shared liberal ideology having nothing to do with energy policy or small business treatment. In such cases, do not get into an argument with that employee and simply state that you are providing facts as they relate to the future of your company under different election outcomes.
Connecticut also has specific legislation regarding threatening employees with reprisals if they don't vote a certain way. Specifically Conn. Gen. Stat. 9-365 states:
"Any person who (1) during the period that is sixty days or less prior to any election, municipal meeting, school district election or school district meeting, attempts to influence the vote of any operative in his or her employ by threats of withholding employment from him or her or by promises of employment, or (2) dismisses any operative from his or her employment on account of any vote he or she has given at any such election or meeting shall be guilty of a class D felony."
In other words, don't threaten specific reprisals, e.g. that if Malloy is elected, we're going to lay off Joe the driver and John the service tech. But rather make generic arguments that if the governor is reelected, and you're a heating oil company, you may lose up to half of your customers due to his energy plan and that will likely result in cutbacks to staff though you will try everything in your power to prevent that.
You may communicate your views on the election to employees verbally, either in group meetings or individually. You may send employees letters or emails. But note: if you incur more than $1000 in costs for such communication, this is considered an independent expenditure and is reportable to the state's Election and Enforcement Commission. Moreover, in any written communication with employees, you need to write "Paid for by [your company]. This message was made independent of any candidate or political party."
Note also, according to the state, you may be considered making an independent expenditure if you hold a staff meeting to discuss exclusively election issues, in which case all the wages and salaries of the involved staff may be considered a contribution for the duration of the meeting. To avoid this, the state recommended just mixing in other company business along with your election discussion. Also, giving employees paid time off to vote may also be considered making an independent expenditure as well, unless it has been your past practice to do so. Polls are open from 6 AM to 8 PM in Connecticut. Note, there is nothing illegal about exceeding the $1000 independent expenditure threshold. It just means you have to register with the state, fill out form SEEC-26 and submit it to the state. If you're unsure whether your expenditures exceed $1000, it's best to err on the side of caution and fill out this form. For more information please see the SEEC website.