GetEQUAL takes ExxonMobil protest nationwide

Posted on 20 May 2010 at 7:03pm
By DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Actions at gas stations on Fridays leading up to larger rally outside annual shareholders meeting

After protests last Friday, May 14, at three Oak Lawn Exxon stations, activists have planned demonstrations at stations in other cities around the country.

The protests are set to precede a larger rally before the ExxonMobil shareholders meeting at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Downtown Dallas on May 26. Greenpeace and other environmental protesters are also expected to be outside the meeting.

A protest has been held at the shareholders meeting each year since Exxon merged with Mobil in 1999. The merged company adopted Exxon’s non-inclusive employment guidelines rather than Mobil’s inclusive policies.

The meeting begins at 9 a.m. and demonstrators usually begin gathering outside the symphony hall by 8 a.m.

Mobil was one of the earliest companies to offer any partnership benefits. Those benefits were rescinded for former Mobil employees. The merged company’s nondiscrimination policies no longer cover LGBT employees.

]Exxon claims that the company follows federal guidelines and exceeds federal mandates in carrying out its nondiscrimination policy. Company officials said they have zero tolerance for harassment at any location around the world.

However, their written policy makes them are one of only a handful of major companies in the United States that rank zero on the Human Rights Campaign Equality Index.

Other oil companies score on the other end of the Equality Index spectrum. Shell, Chevron and BP each rate 100 percent and ConocoPhillips scores 70 percent.

Each year, a shareholder proposal is placed on proxy statements. This year a shareholder proposal to amend the EEO policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity is listed in the proxy statement to shareholders as Item 6.

The New York State Common Retirement Fund submitted the proposal.

Shareholders get one vote for each share of stock they own. Large blocks of stock are owned by pension funds that usually vote for this proposal.

The Exxon board of directors recommended shareholders vote against the proposal.

Item 6 reads, "The Shareholders request that ExxonMobil amend its written equal employment opportunity policy to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to substantially implement the policy."

Supporting the proposal is a page of information.

While the company’s policies do not include nondiscrimination policies, ExxonMobil officials claim that the company does protect LGBT employees and that it does not tolerate any form of discrimination or harrassment.

"The board has reviewed in detail ExxonMobil’s existing global policies that prohibit all forms of discrimination, including those based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in any company workplace, anywhere in the world," Exxon’s board writes in its proxy statement. "In fact ExxonMobil’s policies go beyond the law and prohibit any form of discrimination. Based on these existing all-inclusive, zero-tolerance policies, the board believes the proposal is unnecessary."

By "go beyond the law," they are referring to federal law that provides no protection based on sexual orientation or gender identity and Exxon claims to provide some. Passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would change that. If ENDA passed, sexual orientation and gender identity would be included by law.

Michael Cole, a spokesperson for Human Rights Campaign, said an HRC representative would be in Dallas to vote the organization’s shares in favor of the item. HRC has owned shares of ExxonMobil since the merger in order to support nondiscrimination in the company.

The vote in favor of the proposal has increased each year since 2000. That year, it received 8.2 percent of the shareholders’ vote. Last year 39.3 percent of the shares were voted in favor of the item.

Protests last Friday at three Oak Lawn area Exxon stations attracted about 20 people despite thunderstorms.

Demonstrators tried to dissuade people from buying gas at the stations with signs about Exxon’s discriminatory policies. Some drivers stopped to talk and after getting more information, drove on.

Protests are planned in other cities on Friday, May 21 modeled after the Dallas protest. A group called Stand Up Florida is planning to demonstrate in front of an Exxon station near Tampa airport. Another is planned in Sacramento.

Mark Reed of GetEQUAL said that a protest is planned at the Exxon building in New York City at a later date.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 21, 2010.

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