WASHINGTON—The Service Employees International Union is joining with groups advocating socially responsible investment to prod corporations to live up to their public statements about racial equity and protecting American democracy, rather than leave them as lip-service “wokewashing.”
“Workers who have saved hard for their retirements want to know whether their dollars are being invested in corporations that support politicians championing voter-suppression policies and those literally working against their economic interests,” Alfonso Mayfield, president of the SEIU Florida Public Services Union, said in a statement.
The January 6, 2021 invasion of the Capitol by Donald Trump supporters threatening to kill Congressmembers who voted to certify President Joseph Biden’s victory in the 2020 elections, he told an online press conference Jan. 5, “illuminated how corporate spending can either support or subvert democracy and racial equity.”
The SEIU wants to use its leverage as holders of billions of dollars in investments by its 55 pension funds to hold corporations accountable for keeping their commitments to racial justice, and to stop them from lobbying for anti-worker laws or donating to the 147 Congressmembers who voted to nullify Biden’s election.
“None of our members want their money used to take away people’s right to vote,” said Renaye Manley, the SEIU’s deputy director of strategic initiatives.
In the past year, she said, the union has introduced eight shareholder resolutions related to lobbying and political contributions by corporations it has invested in, and 10 related to their internal racial-equity policies. Those were part of an unprecedented number of similar resolutions introduced in 2021, said Eli Kasargod-Staub of Majority Action, a corporate-watchdog group that focuses on shareholder actions on climate change, worker safety, and racial justice.
Major private-equity firms are often obstacles, Kasargod-Staub added. In part because union and public-sector pension funds invest in them, companies like BlackRock, Vanguard, State Street Corp., and Fidelity Investments own 25% of stock in S&P 500 corporations, he said. Vanguard and Fidelity voted against having an external racial-equity audit at Amazon, and BlackRock and Vanguard opposed an anti-disinformation resolution at Facebook. In both cases, their votes provided the margin of defeat.
In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 putsch attempt, more than 180 corporations pledged not to contribute to the campaigns of the eight senators and 139 House members, all Republicans, who voted to void the election. According to Popular Information’s corporate-accountability index, about 80 have kept to those pledges, including Amazon, CBS, General Mills, Microsoft, and Nike — but more than 100 have not.
The violators, according to Federal Elections Commission records analyzed by Popular Information, include the Cigna health-insurance company, which within two months of the putsch attempt donated $30,000 directly to 15 of the 147 election objectors, and $15,000 each to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. The Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company in 2021 donated $42,500 to 16 of the objectors, and $15,000 each to the NRCC and $15,000 the NRSC. PriceWaterhouseCoopers, one of the top four accounting firms in the world, gave $124,000 to 27 of the objectors, and $30,000 each to the NRSC and the NRCC.
AT&T, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Google, Home Depot, Verizon, and Walmart were among the corporations that cut off direct contributions to objectors, but gave money to the NRSC and NRCC, which support them indirectly. Other companies that gave directly to objectors included Boeing ($375,500 to 48 objectors, the NRSC, and the NRCC); Lockheed Martin ($323,000 to 80 objectors, the NRSC, and the NRCC); and General Motors ($158,500 to 38 objectors and the NRSC).
Corporations often say it’s hard to find candidates who both support their economic agenda and share their announced values on social issues, a reporter pointed out.
“Upholding democracy—that’s just a hard line,” responded Kate Monahan of the “socially responsible” investment firm Trillium Asset Management. “Disenfranchising voters and voting to overturn election results—that’s just beyond the pale, and corporations should recognize that.”
Dieter Walzenegger of SOC Investment Group, which handles $50 billion in SEIU pension funds, said it is “very effective to call out directors.” Corporate directors typically get approved by margins of 95% or more, so a 20% or more vote of no confidence shows significant concerns.