13 Mar 2015 Free Market Leader Questions Walt Disney on Worker Freedoms
National Center for Public Policy Research Tells Disney CEO Bob Iger That Many Disney “Cast Members” Remain Subject to Potential Workplace Discrimination for Private Political and Civic Activities
Iger Agrees to Personally Review Company Policies
National Center for Public Policy Research’s Employee Conscience Protection Project Continues to Fight for Americans Who May Face Workplace Discipline for Private Political Actions and Beliefs
San Francisco, CA / Washington, D.C. – At yesterday’s annual meeting of Walt Disney shareholders in San Francisco, California, in response to the National Center for Public Policy Research’s questioning of the entertainment leader for refusing to protect its employees from retribution for engaging in civic and political activities on their own time with their own resources, Disney CEO Bob Iger agreed to personally review the company’s employee policies.
Yesterday’s exchange follows a legal battle in which Disney’s legal team petitioned the federal government for the right to remove a National Center shareholder proposal that would have allowed shareholders to vote on a non-binding resolution that asked management to offer Disney workers employee conscience protections.
“Many Disney employees remain subject to potential on-the-job retribution simply for engaging in private, legal off-the-job First Amendment-related activities,” said National Center Free Enterprise Project Director Justin Danhof, Esq., who attended yesterday’s meeting and discussed worker freedoms with Mr. Iger. “I am pleased that Iger vowed to personally review Disney’s current policies. While he feels that his cast members (Disney’s term for its employees) already have these protections, I pointed out that many Disney employees operate in jurisdictions where it is perfectly legal for an employer or supervisor to terminate or otherwise take adverse action against an employee simply for having differing political beliefs. If he takes an earnest assessment of the company’s policies, as we have, I am hopeful that he will see this void and add a clear employee conscience protection policy that covers all Disney employees.”
At the meeting, Danhof made it clear that by resisting the National Center’s shareholder proposal, Disney was an outlier, by stating:
Most of the corporations were very willing to give their employees this protection, and made formal changes to give their workplace policies. This includes, but is not limited to, General Electric, PepsiCo and Time Warner.
Only a very small number of companies opposed even letting their shareholders vote on the idea. Unfortunately, Disney 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 off-the-job private political and civic activity, and to block us shareholders from even expressing a formal, but non-binding, opinion.
Danhof then asked:
Why does Disney’s management oppose granting its employees the same kind of freedom of conscience protection that General Electric, Pepsi, Time Warner have seen fit to do? And why did you spend shareholder resources asking the SEC to block shareholders from voting on a non-binding recommendation on this issue?
Your proposal was studied very carefully by our team and they concluded that it really would not have had a material impact on our existing policies. And so we made that argument to the SEC as to why the proposal should be excluded and they agreed with us.
In a follow-up comment, Danhof made it very clear that the National Center has thoroughly reviewed Disney’s policies and noted that they do not contain an employee conscience protection clause. Danhof implored Iger to personally take inventory of the company’s employee policies and fill this void, to which Iger replied, “I will do that.”
“Disney leadership and legal may claim that the company has policies in place that would protect its workers from this type of potential discrimination, but it has not provided any evidence to this effect. In fact, the policy that it has offered as proof that it protects its employees is entirely void of these protections. Disney’s current Standards of Business Conduct merely encourages employees to participate in local activities and the political process. This is a far cry from actually protecting employees from potential retribution for those activities,” added Danhof.
Not only did Disney employ an outside law firm in its efforts to block the National Canter’s non-binding resolution, the company retained the services of Lillian Brown of the firm WilmerHale to do so. Prior to joining WilmerHale, Brown worked for 14-years at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in the division that decides no-action contests between companies and shareholder proponents.
“In Iger’s response to my question, he was slightly imprecise,” added Danhof. “The SEC ruled that Disney could exclude the National Center’s proposal from its proxy statement because setting employee policies is the purview of management, not shareholders. The SEC did not rule that Disney actually had employee conscience protections in its current 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 simply 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 has protected hundreds of thousands of American workers from potential political discrimination. And since it was announced last 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.
Yesterday’s Walt Disney meeting marks the fifth 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.