In what authorities on election law called a breach of state law, the owner of a Pagosa Springs company warned his employees earlier this month that they might lose their jobs if President Barack Obama is re-elected next month.
Chris Smith, owner of the Visiting Angels senior home care facility in Pagosa, sent an email to his employees earlier this month, warning that their hours could be cut and they could lose their health care and jobs if Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney loses the Nov. 6 election.
“The Affordable Care Act, aka ‘Obama-Care’ ... will crush Visiting Angels and hurt your job when it takes effect,” the email obtained by The Durango Herald says.
“We are not trying to sway your vote but sharing the facts of your future employment situation under these immediate political situations. If Romney is elected in 3 weeks, The Affordable Health Care Act, aka ‘Obama Care’ has a good chance of being repealed and small businesses like ours will not drown,” the email said. “For the sake of the 80 people working for Visiting Angels and your own paycheck, remember, on November 3, it will be a close presidential race. Please VOTE!”
Smith said he does not think the email is coercive, instead describing it as persuasive and informative.
“I would say it’s probably a bit persuasive. Not coercive, but I am trying to be persuasive,” he said in a phone interview Friday. “My main intent was to inform them that the Affordable Care Act will affect their job directly.”
Smith also said he does not think his email is illegal, but one lawyer who looked over the email says it’s exactly that.
“The law says it is illegal to make a threat, even if it’s an implied threat,” said Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch. “I think this is over the line, and I would urge anybody who received this email to contact the district attorney and report it as a crime.”
Under Colorado law, within 90 days of an election a business owner cannot display or send out a notice “containing any threat, notice, or information that, if any particular ticket or candidate is elected, work in his place or establishment will cease in whole or in part, or his establishment will be closed, or the wages of his workmen will be reduced or containing other threats, express or implied, intended or calculated to influence the political opinion or actions of his employees.”
A spokesperson for the Colorado secretary of state declined to look over the email Friday, but agreed that it probably violated that statute.
Breaking the statute is a misdemeanor, and those convicted could face up to a year in jail, a $1,000 fine and the corporation to forfeit its charter and right to do business in Colorado.
Visiting Angels is a national assisted-living franchise with 11 franchises in Colorado and more around the country. The national headquarters could not immediately be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
Under the Affordable Care Act, businesses with more than 50 employees that do not offer affordable coverage will be fined if they do not offer coverage for those working more than 30 hours a week.
The email said that, under the new health-care law, Visiting Angels will have these options: cut the hours of employees to get them below 30 hours a week, raise their prices by 10 percent, cut the pay of employees, downsize the business to have less than 50 employees or pay a fine rather than provide health care to employees.
The email also says that if businesses take a fine rather than provide insurance, health insurance will cease to exist and health care will be taken over by the government, “like having Medicare for everyone.”
Romney encouraged business owners to talk to employees about their presidential pick during a June conference call hosted by the National Federation of Independent Business, a conservative-leaning lobbying organization.
“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,” Romney said.
Several large business owners heeded the call.
Multimillionaire founder and CEO of Westgate Resorts David Siegel sent out an email to more than 7,000 of his employees telling them they would lose their jobs if Obama is re-elected.
“The economy doesn’t currently pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job however, is another 4 years of the same Presidential administration,” the email said. “If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current President plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company.”
Arthur Allen, CEO of the Florida-based software firm ASG Software Solutions, sent out an email to more than 1,000 employees asking them to vote for Romney.
“If we fail as a nation to make the right choice on November 6th, and we lose our independence as a company, I don’t want to hear any complaints regarding the fallout that will most likely come,” the email said.
The emails from Siegel and Allen brought media reaction and criticism from liberal organizations earlier this month.
Smith said he saw those emails and “thought I toned mine down to be more informative.”