For Release: February 26, 2015
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CEO of Farming Giant John Deere Challenged for Fighting Proposal to Protect Employees' Right to Engage in Private Political and Civic Activities on Their Own Time
Following Criticism at Shareholder Meeting from National Center for Public Policy Research, Deere CEO Samuel Allen Commits to Reconsidering Employee Protections
National Center's Employee Conscience Protection Project Continues Fight for Americans Who May Face Workplace Discipline for Private Political Actions and Beliefs
Moline, IL / Washington, D.C. - At Wednesday's annual meeting of John Deere shareholders in Moline, Illinois, the National Center for Public Policy Research hammered the industrial giant for refusing to protect its employees from potential termination simply for engaging in civic and political activities on their own time with their own resources.
In response, the company's CEO Samuel Allen pledged to reconsider Deere's policies and positions on the matter.
The exchange follows a legal battle in which Deere's legal team petitioned the federal Securities and Exchange Committee for the right to remove a National Center shareholder proposal on a non-binding resolution advising management of its view of the wisdom of enacting employee conscience protections.
"As it stands, many John Deere employees face potential discipline for engaging in private political and civic activities," said National Center Free Enterprise Project Director Justin Danhof, Esq. "Deere's actions to date, such as fighting us at the SEC, suggest that no policy change is imminent. But I am hopeful that now, with the attention of the CEO, the company's human resources and legal teams will reevaluate the issue and protect Deere's employees."
At the meeting, Danhof made it clear that by resisting the National Center's shareholder proposal, Deere was an outlier among major U.S. corporations, telling Allen:
Most of the corporations we approached were very willing to give their employees this protection, and made formal changes to give their workforce freedom of conscience protections. These firms included, but are not limited to, General Electric, PepsiCo, and Visa.
Only a very small number of firms opposed even letting their shareholders vote on the idea. John Deere was among them...
It is disappointing that the holder of one of the country's most iconic brands would fight to maintain the ability to terminate or penalize its employees for legal, off-the-job private political and civic activity, and fight to block its shareholders from even expressing a formal, but non-binding, opinion.
Danhof then asked Allen:
Why does Deere's management oppose granting employees the same kind of freedom of conscience protections companies such as General Electric, Pepsi, Visa and others freely adopted when we approached them? And why did you spend shareholder resources asking the SEC to let you block shareholders from voting on a non-binding recommendation to management?
"In a two-part reply, Allen told me he is in agreement with the National Center and said that employees should be free to do as they wish on their own time when it comes to politics and civic life without interference," said Danhof. "However, he restated that the company's position is that it is management's prerogative to set and control policies for Deere employees, not shareholders. Allen made it clear that Deere sees a shareholder vote on the issue as the wrong avenue for such policies."
In a follow-up question, Danhof pointed out that Deere's current policies remain wanting when it comes to employee conscience freedoms and urged Allen to take a close look at the company policies and seriously consider augmenting them to ensure worker protections.
"Allen agreed that the company would take another look at its policies, but he repeated the argument that he believes the company's policies already offer such protections," said Danhof. "This is the same argument which we repeatedly disputed in our legal battle at the SEC."
The SEC did not rule Deere already had the policies sought in the National Center's proposal. Instead, and incredibly, the SEC ruled that allowing Deere shareholders to vote on a non-binding proposal giving management its opinion of such commonsense workplace protections would interfere with Deere's ordinary business operations. The SEC allowed Deere to omit the proposal, so shareholders were unable to voice their opinion.
"When Deere fought our resolution, it argued that it would interfere with 'Deere's management of its workforce insofar as it seeks to have Deere maintain "a competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining employees from the widest possible talent pool" since in the [National Center's] view, employment discrimination based on civic or political participation "diminishes employee morale,"'" said Danhof. "Today, I made it known that, in fact, the company's current policies are potentially hindering its workers' freedom and morale. I urge Deere's leadership to earnestly reevaluate its policies."
The genesis for the National Center's Employee Conscience Protection Project occurred in April 2014 when the CEO of Mozilla, Brendan Eich, was forced out of his job because he had donated to a 2008 California referendum that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. Since last April, the National Center has approached dozens of major American corporations asking each to voluntarily add an employee conscience protection policy for its workers.
Through corporate activism, the National Center's Employee Conscience Protection Project already has protected hundreds of thousands of American workers from potential political discrimination. And since it was announced earlier this month, the project has received significant media attention, including coverage by the San Francisco Chronicle, Politico and the Daily Caller. Danhof has also appeared multiple times as a featured guest on One America News Network's "The Rick Amato Show" to discuss various aspects of the project.
The National Center's Free Enterprise Project is the nation's preeminent free-market corporate activist group. In 2014, Free Enterprise Project representatives participated in 52 shareholder meetings advancing free-market ideals in the areas of health care, energy, taxes, subsidies, regulations, religious freedom, food policies, media bias, gun rights, workers rights and many other important public policy issues.
The John Deere meeting marks the third shareholder meeting for the National Center in 2015.
The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, is a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank. Ninety-four percent of its support comes from individuals, less than four percent from foundations, and less than two percent from corporations. It receives over 350,000 individual contributions a year from over 96,000 active recent contributors.
Contributions are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated.