Photo illustration by Ben Hillyer \ The Natchez Democrat

Archived Story

Local businesses steer clear of campaigning on the clock

Published 12:00am Sunday, April 22, 2012

NATCHEZ — With local elections heating up, how do businesses prevent friction of neighboring yards signs from affecting their bottom line?

The politics police can’t monitor conversations employees have about the hot issues, businesses admit. But most local companies do have policies that prevent coworkers from campaigning on the clock.

Whether the issue is health care or Natchez’s next mayor, most local companies consider it a “no-no,” or a downright violation, to post fliers or solicit donations for a political purpose while at work.

“We try to remain apolitical,” Callon Petroleum Human Resources Manager Diana Glaze said.

Callon employees are not allowed to solicit or distribute any literature in the workplace for politics or any other purpose, Glaze said.

And if an employee wants to post a flier in a common area, human resources must approve it. Political fliers wouldn’t make the cut, Glaze said. She said generally, the type of flier that would make it past her desk on to the bulletin board would be something related to a nonprofit.

“I think our employees respect that we don’t want to get into (political) issues,” Glaze said.

However, employees in the break room can talk about whatever they wish on their own time during work breaks, she said.

“People always voice opinions,” she said.

But Glaze said rarely does politically charged conversation drift into uncivil territory at work.

Working long shifts at a hospital is the type of situation that can encourage healthy debate, but Natchez Regional Medical Center CEO Bill Heburn suggested talking about politics and soliciting are two very different things.

NRMC prohibits political material or advertising for political offices in every level of government on the hospital campus.

However, the hospital actually encourages employees to foster healthy civic engagement in the community in a policy titled “political contributions.”

“The hospital believes that our democratic form of government benefits from citizens who are politically active,” Heburn said. “For this reason, we encourage our employees to participate in civic and political activities in their own way and on their own time.”

As far as discussion in the break room, Heburn said it’s simply not practical to control the political discussions, “or any conversations for that matter,” that employees have with each other.

Passing by Taste of Chicago restaurant the busy corner of Main and Martin Luther King Jr. streets, motorists may have noticed some campaign confusion.

Several political signs often appear at the intersection during election season, sometimes competing for opposing candidates.

But owner Paul Lewis said the signs at the restaurant don’t necessarily reflect the candidates he or his employees punch at the poles.

“I’m not trying to be political here, but I just let (campaign workers) put the signs up,” Lewis said.

Because of the visibility of the intersection, lots of people ask to post signs at his business, Lewis said. And he said pretty much anyone who asks to post a sign will get permission to do so.

“But I try to stay out of politics,” he said.

Local schools also take a stand against taking a stand politically, school officials said.

Cathedral School Principal Pat Sanguinetti said especially since Cathedral is religiously based, the school is not allowed to endorse or support any political candidate.

“If I come by (school property) and see that someone put a sign up, I immediately go and remove it,” Sanguinetti said.

And with such a variety of employees and parents involved, Sanguinetti said it’s inevitable that Cathedral community members wouldn’t see eye to eye on nearly every issue or on which candidate to support.

Mock elections in the classroom, mostly during presidential election years, Sanguinetti said, are sometimes conducted for the purpose of teaching them the political process and about civic involvement. But usually those students are too young to vote, he said.

Sanguinetti said he doesn’t see why teachers can’t talk to each other about whom they vote for, but the school would never take a stand either way.

“We will not preach from the pulpit that this is the candidate for me and the school,” Sanguinetti said.

At the Natchez-Adams School District, a policy called “Staff participation in political activities” outlines the district’s rules for politics in the workplace.

The policy notes that it’s is every staff member’s constitutional right to seek political office, which can be seen in the example of Ward 4 Alderman Ernest “Tony” Fields, who is also the vice principal at Morgantown Elementary School.

But employees cannot use the district as a forum for public office or the endorsement of any candidate.

Employees are specifically prohibited from activities including handing out political campaign material, petitions or posters, soliciting campaign funds or addressing campaign issues on school property. And candidates who work at the school are banned from talking to school personnel during school time regarding a campaign.

Sue Stedman of Crye-Leike Stedman Reality said though she is the chairman of the local Republican Party, politics rarely enters into her work atmosphere at the real estate firm.

Stedman said she wouldn’t allow an employee to post a flier for a campaign event at the office, but she would post an advertisement for something that was political, but all-inclusive, like a public candidate forum.

As far as water cooler chat, politics isn’t off limits as long as the conversation is civil.

“If it turns into a brawl I will put a stop to it, but (politics) really and truly doesn’t come up in conversations very often,” Stedman said.

“Politics is cyclical just like everything else…but around this office generally, we’re busy talking about how to get somebody’s house on the market,” Stedman said.

The reason, many suggested, for keeping politics reserved to front lawns, bumper stickers and out of the workplace is to keep employees focused on the job. Glaze said keeping the atmosphere productive and happy for employees is the goal.

“To ensure harmony in the workplace, we don’t want to get into anybody bickering for different points of view, whether it’s politics, religion or sexual orientation,” Glaze said.