Capital One Gags Employees; Wealth Inequality Bad for Democracy

Wealth is power. Inequality of wealth is inequality of power. The more wealth one has, the more people one can hire, and the more power one can exercise over those workers, even when one is getting ready to fire those workers:

Capital One employees didn’t talk to us as they exited the building today.  They were advised not to speak to the media or they could lose their severance pay. But we’re told that employees must attend a meeting September first to get their 90 days’ notice [Angela Kennecke, “Capital One Employees Get News of Layoffs,”, 2015.07.23].

Capital One’s wealth gives it the power (effectively, though not justly) to restrict its less wealthy employees’ liberties. That effective power is why inequality of wealth is bad for democracy.

We form a social contract to ensure that everyone can eat. We form a democratic social contract to ensure that everyone can speak. That one rich person (here, a corporate person!) can force hundreds of other persons (real, natural, flesh and blood voting persons!) to refrain from public discussions of a matter of public import is unjust and inimical to democracy.

18 Responses to Capital One Gags Employees; Wealth Inequality Bad for Democracy

  1. Porter Lansing

    It’s time for a meaningful discussion on what genre of business the Conservative (with a capital “C”) spine that supports South Dakota attracts. Why do companies that care about their workers shy away from expanding to the Pasque flower state? No real safety net? Loss of the best and brightest liberals every graduation. Teacher wage suppression? Low worker wages make it hard to retain valuable employees? A rejection of new things and ideas by government? The answers are why right-wing, people stifling businesses such as Capital One are attracted. Republicans are bad for “fair shake” business as shown by this “liberty plundering” action to silence voters.

  2. Cory, believe or not, this practice is quite common during major lay offs. It is not just about the wealth, it more about controlling the message. During this time there are just a ‘few’ rumors. if the media gets their hands on these rumors and runs with it, what normally follows isn’t good. They want to make sure the news is accurate (the media won’t) Losing the severance package is the stick to make sure they comply

  3. Paul Seamans

    Hopefully someone of the 750 will say, “screw the severance pay and screw the gag order, and will speak out”. Oh, by the way, screw Capitol One.

  4. Why? What would have them say? If I were to hazard a guess; Capitol One is in some kind of money trouble, and they need to cut expenses. What else do you want to know?

  5. Deb Geelsdottir

    “They were advised not to speak to the media or they could lose their severance pay.”

    That’s legal? It just seems so undemocratic and unAmerican. But then, the horrendous wealth inequality is undemocratic and unAmerican too.

  6. bearcreekbat

    Is this even legal? – that’s a good question Deb. If severance pay was part of the original employment contract then I do not think an employer can lawfully change the contract and impose new conditions on the employer for receipt of severance pay, such as requiring the employee to remain silent about the reasons for the separation.

    I can think of only two ways around this. First, if the employee originally agreed to this condition when hired, then it would be enforceable. Second, if no severance pay had been promised as part of the original contract and the employer has now generously decided to grant severance pay upon the conditions of silence.

  7. Is it legal? yes and no. Most generally yes, they have attorneys working long and hard to make sure it is legal. Most front line employees are only granted a severance if they meet certain conditions (like not talking to the media)

    In the event of a plant / office closing they are generally granted 60 paid days.

  8. Companies normally work with the Dept. Of Labor to make sure workers are eligible for some kind of re-training.

  9. mike from iowa

    Cutting expenses is koporate speak for we are greedy and want more profits so we will relocate overseas and pay workers less so shareholder’s earn more.

  10. Donald Pay

    It’s not uncommon for corporate entities, both for profit and non-profit, to have employee handbooks that specify how employees are to handle inquiries by the media. In my case, I have to refer any media inquiries pertaining to our non-profit to either our President, or our Director of Communications. Of course, an employee can answer any media question that doesn’t pertain to the company. For example, he or she could answer the question, “Will you be seeking employment elsewhere, if this layoff occurs?” Or, an employee can provide information on background.

  11. mc-what do u mean? normally, DOL, and retraining?

  12. Cory nails this article and tells it like it is, another sad chapter in America’s history of greedy capitalism and its moving of jobs overseas.

    Not speaking to the media is very common for laid off employees. IBM employees have been told to do this.
    We all know the truth here people. Capital One is not fooling anyone. By the end of the year, I reckon to guess, people in places like India and the Phillippines will be working for Capital One. These workers will not have health insurance, probably not much benefits at all, and will be working for very low wages.

  13. Roger Beranek

    This article nails Cory and tells it like it is: Cory does not understand freedom or economics. No employee at Capital One is being prevented from speaking out. They are only being bribed by their employer to allow that employer to shape its message. There is nothing wrong with that. The only thing wrong is the implied belief that laws that try to control corporate morality do anything but raise the barriers of entry keeping out entrepreneurs that might offer an alternative. The problem isnt greed, its arrogance. And guess who has the problem

  14. Roger, I understand both. I also understand the common conservative dodge of hiding behind the technicality of choice when practical reality tells a different story. You stretch the truth so far that you actually allow yourself to say that bribery is o.k…. but even that statement doesn’t quite describe the situation. The severance package is not a bribe: it is reasonable compensation for the trouble the company causes the workers by laying them off. To further condition such compensation on their sacrificing their First Amendment rights is more like extortion.

    More broadly, let’s just look at the issue of wealth and wages. Everyone needs to earn a wage. One must have wealth to pay wages. When wealth is well distributed, there are more employers offering jobs and wages. If a handful of corporate fascists like Capital One demand immoral concessions from workers (“not only do we expect you to punch the clock and do your actual job, but we also demand control over your Constitutional rights outside of work”), well-distributed wealth means workers have many other choices of workplaces. Perhaps that’s Capital One’s problem in Sioux Falls: workers have enough workplace choices that they don’t have to put up with Capital One’s baloney.

    When wealth is not well distributed, when it is concentrated in fewer hands, workers have fewer choices of employer, and employers have more power over workers. With fewer employers available, workers have less real choice. Their choices aren’t so much “Work here, work there, or work there”; they are “work here or go hungry.” That’s how the concentration of wealth practically reduces liberty: a few people get lots of choices, and a lot of people have fewer choices.

    I understand liberty and economics quite well, Roger. I understand that they do not exist in a vacuum or on paper. They exist in the real world, where South Dakotans regularly tell me they don’t want to speak up or sign a petition because they fear their boss or their big customers (you know, the ones with concentrated wealth) would find out and hurt them economically. We should not be hostages to wealth. We should always feel free to exercise our Constitutional choices. But the practical people around me understand that the concentrators of wealth can make our choices carry costs that folks without wealth cannot bear.

  15. The Department of Labor administers retraining programs. employees get two years of schooling up to a bachelor’s degree. some of the money is funded by the company and some of it is tax payer money

    just for clarification that two years all paid, including books.

  16. do non-severance acceptors that choose to speak out at great cost to themselves and their ethic, get retraining MC?

    what is the compensation package of corporate management, MC?

    Are those payments into the state audited?

    You and Coyote might use citations to these dallops of wisdom you provide. but if you don’t we will. and we will not be as kindly accommodating of your free speech here (at times:).

  17. MC, when did the DOL start paying for retraining in the form of paying for college? Or is this only if large lay offs are involved? I went through a period of unemployment a few years back and was already enrolled at NSU but no body offered that to me. That would have been in 2000.Just wondered if I would have been eligible.

  18. Roger Beranek

    Cory, the fear of incurring a consequence for freely chosen actions is not same as lacking freedom. The only consequence to any of the employees leaving Capital One is that the evil monolith can impose not giving them a payout. It is a strange ‘real world’ you live in where people, under no obligation to pay me, choose to do so anyway with a condition: I don’t attack them in the press. And by setting that condition I am abusing my power and stiffling speech. I understand that those with power can abuse those without, but what you seem to think of as abuse is the simple fact of them having wealth in the first place. You speak of concentrated wealth synonymously with monopoly. You speak of wages synonymously with income. You speak of meeting an employer’s expectations synonymously with fascism. Reality? I do not think that word means what you think it means. The practical reality you live in defines as restricting freedom nothing more than people holding themselves hostage to what they want to get out of others. Do I not have real freedom because I can’t insult my friends and expect birthday presents? You are quick to dismiss the theoretical in favor of practical, but this utilitarianism is a rather convenient justification for a bright mind to engineer society without being held back by theoretical things like morality.