Ethics Dunces: Arthur Allen, CEO of ASG Software Solutions and David Siegel, CEO of Westgate Resorts (UPDATED)

MSNBC has discovered two CEO’s who have told their employees that if they don’t vote for Mitt Romney—if the Republican isn’t elected—their jobs are at risk. I’m sure there are others like them; probably many others. They are all unethical, and seriously so.

In some jurisdictions what they are doing is illegal, but illegal or not, it is wrong. Nobody with power over others, be they bosses, parents, ministers, teachers, military officers or police officers, should attempt to use that power to influence individual political choices. To do so is coercive, unfair, an offense to personal autonomy and the rights of citizenship, an abuse of power and an abuse of position.

Chris Hayes, who has publicized the efforts of Arthur Allen, CEO of ASG Software Solutions, and David Siegel, CEO of Westgate Resorts to influence the votes of his employees, opined that their efforts were inappropriate and felt “fundamentally coercive.” Exactly. The CEOs have power over their employees’ welfare, and such appeals come with an implied threat.

Telling someone how to vote is presumptuous. Telling someone how to vote when you have authority over him is unethical.

UPDATE: Think Progress has found yet another leaked audio of Mitt Romney talking to supporters, this time to what the progressive website calls the “very conservative” National Federation of Independent Business. I guess when your that far left, almost anything looks “very conservative,” but the NFIB is just a business association, and not especially conservative. Romney, in addressing the excutives, urged them to do essentially what Allen and Siegel did:

“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. And whether you agree with me or you agree with President Obama, or whatever your political view, I hope — I hope you pass those along to your employees. 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 and of course doing that with your family and your kids as well.”

Mitt’s exhorting them to abuse their power. His advice is unethical.

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Graphic: Ars Technica

44 Comments

Filed under U.S. Society

44 responses to “Ethics Dunces: Arthur Allen, CEO of ASG Software Solutions and David Siegel, CEO of Westgate Resorts (UPDATED)

  1. Inquiring Mind

    If someone can be suspended for signing an initiative position, then why should CEOs not tell employees that their votes may put their jobs at risk, particularly if their votes for Obama have the effect of harming the company’s bottom line?

    Either Gallaudet is as wrong at act against Angela McCaskill for signing the anti-gay marriage position as these CEOs supposedly are, or the CEOs have the same rights to act against their employees as Gallaudet does against Dr. McCaskill.

    Ethics alarms cannot have it both ways.

    • This makes no sense whatsoever. I can’t see the analogy at all, because it isn’t there. A truly awful, illogical leap.

      Her job requires a commitment to equality, and a perception of same by the students. No job should require that employees share their employer’s beliefs about who should be President, and no citizen should be subjected to coercive efforts to influence what should be free choice…..including those who work for the President himself. The analogy would be if an employee signed a petition to boycott her own company.

      • Her job requires a commitment to equality, and a perception of same by the students.

        Your overstate her job requirements.

        It was to ensure equal access to university resources, not promote equality in all areas of life.

        • I didn’t say it was to promote equality in all areas of life. But to a student, the campus is life, and that distinction is meaningless.

          • Michael Ejercito

            And her signing of the petition does not interfere with educational services.

            • Yes, it does. This is really no different from the naked teacher scenarios. She undermined her credibility and trust. There are legitimate consequences for that.

              • Inquiring Mind

                I find it interesting – colleges certainly bend over backwards for diversity in race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. I’m sure they also try to get diversity in geographic origin, and a host of other considerations as well. Heck, University of Texas is in the Supreme Court now, fighting for a policy that they believe will enhance one of those forms of diversity.

                Yet when it comes to what is perhaps the most important form of diversity in an institution of higher learning – diversity of opinion/thought or “intellectual diversity” – the reaction from Gallaudet seems to be to stamp it out. We’re not even going into the “chilling effect” this will have on speech regarding gay rights issues at Gallaudet (and yes, there will be a chilling effect). Dr. McCaskill’s story is exactly why tenure was created in the first place.

                I see more than one double standard here. So, why is the punishment of political activity okay when it is for a cause generally favored by conservatives, and it is not okay when it is for a candidate/cause favored by so-called “progressives”? And what makes it okay in the setting of an institution of higher learning and NOT okay when done in the setting of a business?

                And for the record, as on this comment, the president of Gallaudet apparently has taken far more concrete action against Dr. McCaskill than these CEOs have taken against their employees.

                • tgt

                  Yet when it comes to what is perhaps the most important form of diversity in an institution of higher learning – diversity of opinion/thought or “intellectual diversity” – the reaction from Gallaudet seems to be to stamp it out.

                  While FIRE has documented a number of free speech and diverse opinion issues at universities, this isn’t one of them. You’re ignoring this person’s job and the conflict that is created.

                  Everything that follows seems to be built off of strawmen and invalid equivalencies, so I’m not going to bother with it.

  2. kagnu mushin

    If these CEOs perceive a high probability of economic downturn or disaster following an Obama/Democrat win on Nov.6, they have not only every right to say so but also a duty to warn everyone, including their employees, of what they believe will be the diastrous results of an Obama/Democrat win. This is HIGHLY ETHICAL; the column above is seriously, substantively incorrect ethically and philosophically, as well as being logically invalid and semantically misleading. In many religions and philosophies, these errors count as a lying.

    • Nope. Not to their employees. They can assist in the campaign any way they want. They can contribute—they can argue with peers. They can start a blog.They may not use their power to coerce employees. It is not ethical, and can’t be defended as ethical. Your argument is the end justify the means, nothing more. In some jurisdictions such statements might be illegal, but even where the employers can claim a right, that doesn’t excuse the conduct.

      And this statement— the column above is seriously, substantively incorrect ethically and philosophically, as well as being logically invalid and semantically misleading. In many religions and philosophies, these errors count as a lying—is junk, and unfair junk at that. You don’t back up any of those accusations, and the claim that I am lying because you don’t comprehend abuse of power is an abuse of your privilege of commenting.

      And your e-mail is fake. I need your name and a valid e-mail, pal, or it’s curtains. Follow the rules.

      • Sharon

        He was just practicing his “duty to warn”. There is a Chicken Little joke in there somewhere…

      • kagnu mushin

        We have the secret ballot, the very thing that enabled Nicaraguans to get rid of the Sandinistas, despite all pre-election appearances, when “everyone knew” from the hats and the banners and the crowds that Ortega and the Sandinistas were winning and the people were “with them.” Yet somehow Daniel Ortega lost, bigtime. Secret ballot.

        A secret ballot, get it? The “boss” doesn’t know how you vote. You get to decide. He tells you what he thinks the consequences are of a vote one way or the other. You get to decide. He doesn’t see your vote. Secret.

        Now about your use of the word “coerce.” The proper meaning here is “to restrain or dominate by force.” An opinion about consequences to the country or economy is not a domination by force. You want to include the idea of “threat,” but an opinion about consequences to the economy is not a meaningful personal threat; to qualify as **that** there would have to be a way to connect the secret ballot to the individual employee. Doesn’t happen. Thus, “semantically misleading.”

        Similarly flawed is your use of the phrase “power over others.” Yes, “bosses, parents, ministers, teachers, military officers or police officers” have what you term ‘power over others.’ Apparently you think that means they can’t ethically express their political opinions. What arrant and arrogant nonsense! You offend against “personal autonomy and the rights of citizenship” far more than the CEOs you disdain, by disrespecting those employees’ abilities to think and act for themselves. Same applies to every voter who has a parent, minister, teacher, or officer anywhere near them.

        Hence “substantively incorrect, ethically and philosophically, as well as being logically invalid and semantically misleading.”

        As to an opinion being “an offense to personal autonomy:” that’s exactly what your column is. Individuals get to vote. With a secret ballot. That’s personal autonomy. Not “freedom from the opinions of others.” Not “freedom from the opinions of bosses.”

        Receiving an expressed an opinion about the likely economic consequences of electing certain leaders is NOT coercive; it’s INFORMATIVE. What you do with it — believe it, act on it, ignore it, dispute it, rail against it, vote against it — is up to you as an individual. You get to vote. You get to decide whether to oppose that opinion, publicly or privately, in small groups or large, on the Web, in letters to the editor, or not. Up to you as an autonomous individual. And best of all, you get to vote as you like, with no one the wiser, and no coercive consequences, at your job, at your home, in your groups …. secret. Like it’s supposed to be.

        And the email isn’t fake; i receive and respond just fine.

        • tgt

          So, you’re saying that nobody has ever actually coerced anyone’s vote, as the votes were always secret. Absolute junk.

          I guess when you redefine coerce, like you did there, anything is possible. Police officers must never coerced a suspect into confessing when they didn’t beat the suspect. Cults have never coerced their followers.

          There are also certain people who can’t ethically express certain opinions to certain other people. If I owned a company, I absolutely could not ethically express to my subordinates that I think bitches are just sexual playthings or that niggers should all be shot like the dogs they are.

          Basically, you don’t seem to understand the coercive affect inherent in power imbalances.

          • kagnu mushin

            So to you, bosses are to employees as cops are to those arrested; and bosses are to employees as cults are to followers.
            It is as interesting to learn **how** you think, as above, as it is to learn **what** you think, as in your 3rd paragraph.

            • “Basically, you don’t seem to understand the coercive affect inherent in power imbalances.”

              Yup!

            • tgt

              In power imbalance, true. In other ways, not. You don’t seem to understand what an analogy is.

              Also, despite your confusion, the 3rd paragraph wasn’t showing examples of things I think. Just things that can’t be expressed to subordinates. Referring to women as bitches and blacks as niggers was part of that.

              • kagnu mushin

                Analogies fail (and mislead) when the details contradict (or fail to correspond to) the implied “similar case;” and that’s what’s incorrect about implying an equivalence between cops-and-arrestees as analogous to all employees receiving an email or letter from an employer … especially when the secret ballot precludes consequences to any individual employee, and the employer says ‘vote for whomever you choose.’

                BTW, how is it we’re discussing employers’ alleged coercion when NJEA, the New Jersey Teacher’s Union with $96 million in dues, mailed all 195,000 public school employees a front-page story that urged all public school employees and their families “to re-elect Democratic President Barack Obama and Sen. Bob Menendez”.

                NJ state law forces every public school employee to pay dues (about $1100, for teachers) to three separate unions—the national NEA, the state NJEA, and local “education” associations. Much of that money is used to advance “progressive” agendas, and help “progressive” candidates get elected and re-elected. But it’s not coercive? to force people to join unions and then use their dues money to support causes they don’t agree with?

                • We’re discussing that because that’s what I chose to write about. When I choose to write about the policy decision to require union membership, a different issue, I’ll write about that. It has nothing to do with the post under discussion.

                  Ken at Popehat agrees with you, by the way. He’s wrong too, but you will like his take, I suspect.

                • tgt

                  Analogies fail (and mislead) when the details contradict (or fail to correspond to) the implied “similar case;” and that’s what’s incorrect about implying an equivalence between cops-and-arrestees as analogous to all employees receiving an email or letter from an employer … especially when the secret ballot precludes consequences to any individual employee, and the employer says ‘vote for whomever you choose.’

                  So the difference in details are (1) secret ballot and (2) the ‘vote for whomever you choose’ boilerplate. The latter is obviously stupid, as a disclaimer doesn’t override the meaning of other words and actions. For instance: “The government should lock you up for what you’re saying. Nothing in my statement should be construed as a desire for your first amendment rights to be trampled”. The former, again, is irrelevant. Secret ballots are not a silver bullet from coercion.

  3. “Nope. Not to their employees. They can assist in the campaign any way they want. They can contribute—they can argue with peers. They can start a blog.”

    So if the boss says to an employee “If Obama wins, we could all lose our jobs,” that would be wrong. But if he turns to his wife and says the exact same thing within earshot of the employee, that would be okay? Because that’s basically what you’re saying. It’s not like employees don’t watch their bosses and gossip about them. They’d read his blog and hear about his contributions to the campaign.

    And there’s a grain of a good point in kagnu mushin’s comment: If the CEO really believes that the outcome of the election could harm the company and put employees out of work, it’s not wrong for him to warn his people.

    That said, however much Barack Obama may be responsible for our troubled economy, isn’t it more likely that the real cause of all the problems at Arthur Allen’s company is Arthur Allen? It sounds like he’s trying to cast the blame on someone else, which is certainly an ethical failing.

    • The direct statement is an implied threat, and the overheard statement has no coercive intent at all. I don’t see anything odd about that distinction. That’s right—what the employees glean on their own is fine. The issue is someone with power over you trying to use that power to influence what should be a private, personal choice.

      The CEO’s plea is also unpatriotic. He should be voting for what is best for the nation, not his business, and so should everyone else.

      • As for the warning: the ethical one goes like this: “If Obama wins, I am likely to lose the business, or at least have layoffs.FYI. That said, make your own decisions, and do your duty as an American by voting as your heart, mind and love for your country dictate.”

        • That’s a warning without the threat. Was that so hard?

          • Jack,

            You must have missed the sentence in the Westgate letter that states:

            “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.”

            Additionally, the ASG CEO pointed out how the business environment would change and therefore create an incentive for him to sell the business (and necessarily lead to lay-offs).

            These were characterized by the MSNBC commentator to be “fundamentally coercive”. You agreed with that assessment, in part, because the CEO’s have power over their employees.

            So far so good. However, my read on this is quite different. I think that if these CEO’s truly believe that the economic environment under one administration will lead to business failure or significant contraction, they have an ethical obligation to inform their employees as to the issues involved, and remind them that their vote could have an impact on the future one way or another.

            Neither one makes any statement to the effect that an individual employee will lose their position if it is found they voted the wrong way. (Seigel actually was quite clear that he couldn’t interfere with the voting choices his employees make).

            In any event, I read both letters more than once and just couldn’t come up with the coercive element that Chris Hayes said that he “felt” in the messages. This is definitely not a clear cut case of a threat to “vote the way I say or you will pay”.

            • If the letter was coercive without that paragraph, it was coercive with it. Lawyers who unethically program their client’s testimony don’t undo the clear intent of their words by ending the instructions with, “But of course, tell the truth.” Some one who insults you to your face and ends by saying, “no offense” is still offending. I once saw a memo of collusion by competitors in the insurance industry against another single company, outlining a coordinated strategy of driving him out of business, that ended with an ode to the anti-trust laws. And I’m sure Bill Clinton, putting the moves on Monica, whom he could squash like an insect, said, “of course, I wouldn’t want you to do anything you don’t want to.”

              Bullshit.

              I am a near absolutist on this issue. I have vocally opposed attempts by my employers to influence my charitable contributions. My father walked out of church, conspicuously, and registered his strong objections when our minister started telling us who we should vote for. I meant what I wrote: it’s an abuse of position, authority and power. Chris Hayes and I reach the same conclusion, though he his doing so because he doesn’t want anybody to support the Republican ticket, and I reach it because the practice is obtrusive, inappropriate, and wrong.

  4. Eric R

    Jack, the only issue I have with this analysis is you’re using the wrong ethical lens. The CEO has only one responsibility and that is to their stock holders. That’s it. While we would like for them to make decisions based on other considerations it’s just not how it happens. Furthermore, they would say they are being unethical if they us any other framework for their own decisions.

    You’ve done an excellent job of establishing your ethics framework but to assume that behavior is unethical because it’s not in line with your framework is problematic. This does point out a reason why regulation of businesses is so important. We need to compel businesses to act inline with our ethical framework and not to act solely within their own ethical framework.

    • No, Eric. You’re mixing up fiduciary ethical duties with societal ones. They both apply. Every employer has parallel duties of fairness, respect, responsibility, honesty, integrity, caring and citizenship. We all do. These CEO’s have breached the ethical values in bold.

      • Jack, you have an ethical conflict. Again, let’s assume the warning is accurate–a Romney presidency would be better for that specific business and an Obama presidency would be harmful, with specific funding programs in mind. You raise seven duties, four of which you put in bold as being breached by the accurate warning. However, the employer has a duty of honesty–it is a sin of omission to not inform those who go to vote without knowing that they are acting against their own financial interests. It is a violation of the duty of caring to not warn–while we must not put a stumbling block before the blind, it is just as bad not to warn a blind person of an obvious stumbling block. It is a violation of the duty of integrity to be non-transparent about the business’ future prospects. And, turning to the ones you bolded–it is unfair to withhold pertinent information from a voter, it is disrespectful to assume they can’t handle the truth, it is irresponsible to lead in this manner (especially when, down the road, the fired employees ask “why didn’t you warn us this could happen!”). The only one I’m uncertain on is “citizenship”, but I am one who thinks that more information leads to a better informed citizenry and that the cure for erroneous information is more information, not a ban on speech. It is not as cut and dried as you suggest.

        • Yeah, it is. Because the whole fiction that the employees can’t figure out their own self-interest without being herded by their employer is nonsense, and CEO’s undoubtedly know it. Do the employees of a Green energy firm being propped up by Federal grants know that their company might rise or fall on who is elected? A defense contractor? A pipeline firm? Please. The disclosure angle is a pretty lame rationalization for what is, in truth, an employer tryng to substitute his political judgment for those who work for him, using the leverage of his wallet. That’s what’s happening.

          You’re right: I should have bolded HONESTY, too.

          • tgt

            It’d be appropriate to tell investors and board members how you see things going. The employees? Not the same.

            • Steve

              tgt,
              Just trying to make sure I understand your point, is it that the employees shouldn’t be told? or why not tell the employees if you tell the others? I may be reading more into your comment then required.

              • Steven

                Name should have been Steven, now that I have been posting here for a little while I may have to come up with a unique name since I see at least one other Steve/Steven posting here.

              • tgt

                Steve(n), [Side note, I recommend Steve(n)]

                What I’m saying is there’s a fiduciary duty to tell investors and the like. The same does not apply to employees. I was trying to show how Jay’s “duty of honesty” and “sin of omission”, while real things, don’t apply in the way he claims.

                There is no duty to tell your employees that the company forecast will change based on the president elected. Moreover, since there’s a large power imbalance between employer and employee, any such information is likely to be threatening to employees. The same doesn’t go for investors and board members.

                • Steven

                  “What I’m saying is there’s a fiduciary duty to tell investors and the like. The same does not apply to employees.”

                  I think it does, they have just as much at stake or more.

                  “ Moreover, since there’s a large power imbalance between employer and employee, any such information is likely to be threatening to employees. The same doesn’t go for investors and board members.”

                  I agree completely on this but I think it is reasonable to inform them in some way, but I am at a loss on how it could be done without crossing the line.

                  • tgt

                    Employees are not entitled to the same information as investors and board members, and they generally don’t receive such. Do companies talk about possible mergers with janitors? Don’t the janitors “have just as much at stake or more?” How someone could be affected does not determine the information they should be given.

          • Jack, the employees possess the shield of the secret ballot. Coercion is practically impossible where the employer cannot know how any of his employees voted. Might the employer be attempting to influence the vote? Sure. But it’s just words. Any employee who might be convinced by the boss has the freedom to take an independent look at the issues and learn if their boss is lying or telling the truth. Just like Lockheed Martin is required to issue WARN notices to ensure the employees are prepared for sequester, this employer has a similar moral duty. Telling the truth is ethical.

            • Telling the truth is ethical, but there is more to this conduct than truthtelling. Verbal abuse is often completely truthful, but it is still wrong—just to cite one of many examples. In coercive workplace conduct by employers, it is the employees’ perception as much as reality that matters. This isn’t illegal conduct, but it is unethical.

            • kagnu mushin

              Entirely correct.

              • kagnu mushin

                My “Entirely correct” comment was to Jay Wolman, and absolutely NOT to Jack Marshall, whose reply to Wolman conflates “verbal abuse” with a respectful letter warning of predictable consequences. JM’s interpretation of “coercive” states that perception has the same value as reality, a typical falsity usually offered in the service of devaluing facts so as to promote an agenda, which in this case appears to be trying valiantly to sustain a charge of “unethical” that the facts won’t bear.

      • Eric R

        I understand your perspective, and there are companies out there that follow the parallel duties as you outline them. Mainly because there are people in control of those companies who agree with your ethical framework. Most CEO’s and companies only see their fiduciary responsibility. Any societal duties met are secondary to the fiduciary duties. So much so that it’s not unreasonable to say the societal duties do no exist.

        There are infinite examples of this behavior. Hiring “full time” employees but only scheduling them 36 hours a week so they can’t get benefits. Dumping of toxic waste. Giving employees unreasonable schedules so they quit after 5 years of experience because their wages are too high. Paying women less money for the same work. Moving profitable business units over seas decimating the surrounding communities. You can argue these are unethical practices. They’re not if they don’t negatively effect the profit margin of the company.

        We many not like the business ethical framework. We may try to give “business ethics” classes to influence future CEO’s and CFO’s but the bottom line is the bottom line unless they are compelled to act.

  5. Dwayne N. Zechman

    Um, yeah. The management at Mrs. Zechman’s company has done this very thing (except saying that re-electing the President is what would be best for the company), and she and I have had this very argument.

    Thanks Jack! Now my wife is mad at YOU too. :-)

    –Dwayne

  6. Steven

    Jack,
    I agreed with you when I first heard this story, but based on some further thought, reading the letters and some of the points brought up on this post I became conflicted. Here is my conflict and conclusion.
    I don’t think the CEOs acted unethically if they perceive that their employees are not getting accurate information from the media and other sources that will directly impact their lives. In this sense alone I am ok with their actions. If they are just doing it for their own gains, then yes it is unethical. Who can really know?

    But then if I ask myself if it is coercion? My answer is yes, and I have to conclude that it is unethical.

    My question is could they have accomplished educating their employees without being unethical?

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