United CEO Oscar Munoz Tells Shareholder Activist That the Obviously Political Decision Wasn't Political.
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz was confronted today about the company's decision to end the airline's affiliation with the National Rifle Association (NRA) following the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The National Center for Public Policy Research's Free Enterprise Project (FEP) - the nation's leading proponent of free-market investor activism - challenged the company's action in front of its investors and leadership, calling the move overtly political.
"When I asked why United broke a business relationship with the NRA, Munoz dismissively answered me by suggesting I was making political commentary and that the company's decision to essentially denounce the NRA wasn't political," said FEP Director Justin Danhof, Esq., who attended United's shareholder meeting and confronted Munoz. "Munoz claimed the decision was made only because a United employee's daughter was killed in the Parkland shooting. While that is indeed a tragedy, this explanation insults the intelligence of United's investors and customers. United has 90,000 employees and has been around for nearly 100 years. In all that time, has no other United employee or a family member experienced gun violence? That's hard to believe. It would seem the company, like so much of the mainstream media, regularly ignores shootings in areas such as the South Side of Chicago."
Today's annual shareholder meeting of United Continental Holdings - the parent company of United Airlines and United Express - took place at the Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois.
"Munoz's decision to end the company's discounts for NRA members came on the heels of a very politicized reaction to a tragedy. The mainstream media and anti-Second Amendment activists were pressuring corporations to join their cause. United fell in line with the liberal mob. Of course its decision was political," said Danhof. "It's also pretty rich for Munoz to grandstand and claim the company isn't political when it just hiredformer Obama Administration mouthpiece Josh Earnest."
At the meeting, Danhof told Munoz:
I suppose you are ignoring the fact that the NRA had nothing to do with what happened in Parkland and that the perpetrator had zero affiliation with the NRA. But, hey, congratulations on your virtue signaling. What exactly did investors get out of that? The company is willfully giving up money. That's an odd choice for an airline company in a hyper-competitive industry.
Danhof then added:
CNBC asked Warren Buffett about corporations distancing themselves from the National Rifle Association and gun manufacturers and how Berkshire Hathaway would respond. Buffett replied: "I don't believe in imposing my views on 370,000 employees and a million shareholders. I'm not their nanny on that… I don't think that Berkshire should say we're not going to do business with people who own guns. I think that would be ridiculous."
Buffett went on to explain that corporations that make in-the-moment political decisions are subject to the fickle nature of politics and are constantly reacting to events rather than standing on consistent principles.
Can you tell us - your investors - how it makes sound business sense to alienate millions of potential customers who support the 2nd Amendment, and explain why you have this right while Warren Buffet has this wrong?
Danhof's full question, as prepared for delivery, is available at this link.
"By refusing to actually address the crux of my question, Munoz made it clear to me that he doesn't really care that he offended so many gun supporters and NRA members," noted Danhof. "Furthermore, he refused to address how this decision might affect United's business. That should concern the company's investors. That's a leadership failure of epic proportions."
Following the Parkland shooting and the subsequent corporate backlash, Danhof penned a commentary for The Federalist noting just how predictable it was that big business aligned with the left. Danhof observed the common pattern following such tragedies, noting: "It's an all too common pattern. Liberal politicians and the media take up a cause. Left-wing activist groups mobilize to pressure corporations. Corporate America joins the fray, and their support is used to bolster and justify the cause. It's a circular echo chamber, but it's effective." Danhof's full commentary is available here.
In April, Danhof confronted Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan over his decision to cancel lending to certain gun manufacturers. That confrontation was widely covered in the press, including the Charlotte Observer, the Chicago Tribune, the St. Louis Post-Dispatchand many other major publications.
Following that meeting, Bank of America announced that it would indeed extend critical financing to Remington - a maker of military assault rifles. An article in Reuters discussed that decision in the context of Danhof's question to Moynihan.
Counting today's United meeting, FEP representatives have participated in 21 shareholder meetings in 2018.
Additionally, at yesterday's annual meeting of Merck shareholders, Danhof asked the pharmaceutical company's CEO, Kenneth Frazier, about his political activism. Frazier quit President Trump's business advisory councils in the wake of the civil and racial unrest that took place last summer in Charlottesville, Virginia. According to Danhof, Frazier "jumped the shark" in alluding to Nazi Germany during what he called "a wild distortion" of his question. A video of that exchange is available on YouTube.
Further commentary from Danhof regarding the Merck meeting is forthcoming.
Launched in 2007, the National Center's Free Enterprise Project focuses on shareholder activism and the confluence of big government and big business. Over the past four years alone, FEP representatives have participated in over 100 shareholder meetings – advancing free-market ideals about health care, energy, taxes, subsidies, regulations, religious freedom, food policies, media bias, gun rights, workers' rights and other important public policy issues. As the leading voice for conservative-minded investors, FEP annually files more than 90 percent of all right-of-center shareholder resolutions. Dozens of liberal organizations, however, annually file more than 95 percent of all policy-oriented shareholder resolutions and continue to exert undue influence over corporate America.
FEP activity has been covered by media outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Variety, the Associated Press, Bloomberg, Drudge Report, Business Insider, National Public Radio and SiriusXM. FEP's work was prominently featured in Wall Street Journal writer Kimberley Strassel's 2016 book The Intimidation Game: How the Left is Silencing Free Speech (Hachette Book Group).
Danhof's latest commentary, on the recent Walt Disney shareholder meeting where his actions resulted in Joy Behar's public apology for suggesting Christianity is a mental illness, is available by clicking here.
The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, is a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank. Ninety-four percent of its support comes from individuals, less than four percent from foundations and less than two percent from corporations. It receives over 350,000 individual contributions a year from over 60,000 active recent contributors. Contributions are tax-deductible and may be earmarked for the Free Enterprise Project. Sign up for email updates here.
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