Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Country Preacher Visits Eastman

I had an interesting morning. I attended the annual meeting of Eastman Chemical Company Stockholders in Kingsport. I was asked at the last minute by the New York City Comptroller's Office (which files shareholder resolutions to amend companies' EEO policies to include both "sexual orientation" and "gender identity") to represent the New York City Pension Funds, a shareholder at Eastman.

Apparently the person scheduled to represent them was not able to do so, so they were scrambling around to find someone in the area to do it. Through connections from the Human Rights Campaign to the Tennessee Equality Project finally they found us at PFLAG Tri-Cities.

When I found out what it was about I said, "Sure, I'll help you."

Now Eastman is a big place. I had to dig out a sport coat and tie, not something you find me in very often and speak at the stockholders' meeting. I met some very nice people at Eastman including Marie Wilson who showed me around and made me feel most welcome.

The meeting itself lasted only 15 minutes. The proposal for which I was to speak was the major agenda item. You can find the proposal on the 2008 Proxy Statement (p. 17-18). In a nutshell it was a request to adopt a non-discrimination policy. The company's response is that such a policy is unnecessary. They recommended a vote against.

At the meeting I gave my prepared statement. I did include a little bit about me, that I was a local clergyperson and the secretary for PFLAG Tri-Cities, a new organization in our area that supports, educates, and advocates on behalf of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their families and friends.

After the meeting, the secretary reported that the proposal had failed (I think with these things, most people vote beforehand). The point of this proposal was to get the conversation started.

You can read the proposal, the company's response, and the statement I delivered below. I think if I had written the statement I might have done it a little differently. I might have applauded Eastman for the steps they have taken already toward non-discrimination and that this proposal was a guide and a help to further that good work already begun. But it wasn't up to me to change the script.

After the meeting I introduced myself to the CEO, J. Brian Ferguson, and thanked him for welcoming me. I thanked him for the work that they had done toward non-discrimination and I wondered if at some point PFLAG Tri-Cities might be able to speak to the folks at Eastman as to what we are about. He thought that was a good idea.

The door has been opened. I didn't think to ask if I could list Eastman Chemical on our list of lgbt friendly businesses and ask for a corporate sponsorship. Ah well. Even so, I thought I did OK for a country parson somewhat out of his element.

Here is Eastman's News Release of the meeting. And the text of the proposal:


Stockholder New York City Pension Funds has given notice that it intends to submit the following proposal and supporting statement:

WHEREAS,

  • corporations with non-discrimination policies relating to sexual orientation have a competitive advantage to recruit and retain employees from the widest talent pool;
  • Employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation diminishes employee morale and productivity;
  • The company has an interest in preventing discrimination and resolving complaints internally so as to avoid costly litigation and damage its reputation as an equal opportunity employer;
  • Atlanta, Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco have adopted legislation restricting business with companies that do not guaranteed equal treatment for lesbian and gay employees and similar legislation is pending in other jurisdictions;
  • The company has operations in and makes sales to institutions in states and cities which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation;
  • A recent National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce study has found that 16%-44% of gay men and lesbians in twenty cities nationwide experienced workplace harassment or discrimination based on their sexual orientation;
  • National public opinion polls consistently find more than three-quarters of the American people support equal rights in the workplace for gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals;
  • A number of Fortune 500 corporations have implemented non-discrimination policies encompassing the following principles:
1) Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will be prohibited in the company’s employment policy statement.

2) The company’s non-discrimination policy will be distributed to all employees.

3) There shall be no discrimination based on any employee’s actual or perceived health condition, status, or disability.

4) There shall be no discrimination in the allocation of employee benefits on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

5) Sexual orientation and gender identity issues will be included in corporate employee diversity and sensitivity programs.

6) There shall be no discrimination in the recognition of employee groups based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

7) Corporate advertising policy will avoid the use of negative stereotypes based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

8) There shall be no discrimination in corporate advertising and marketing policy based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

9) There shall be no discrimination in the sale of goods and services based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and

10) There shall be no policy barring on corporate charitable contributions to groups and organizations based on sexual orientation.

RESOLVED: The Shareholders request that management implement equal employment opportunity policies based on the aforementioned principles prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

STATEMENT: By implementing policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the Company will ensure a respectful and supportive atmosphere for all employees and enhance its competitive edge by joining the growing ranks of companies guaranteeing equal opportunity for all employees.

This is the company's response:


Response of the Company

Eastman is an equal opportunity employer that is fully committed to complying with all applicable equal employment opportunity laws. The Board believes that the Company’s current policies and practices with respect to nondiscrimination fully achieve the objectives set out in this proposal without the need for additional specificity, and that further procedural changes to policies would only divert resources and management time and attention from the overall goal of creating a truly nondiscriminatory workplace.

Our corporate equal employment opportunity policy provides that “Eastman Chemical Company will not discriminate against, or tolerate harassment of, any employee or applicant for employment because of race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, national origin, or sexual orientation.” The Company’s nondiscrimination policy applies to “all matters pertaining to employment, such as recruiting, hiring, training, on-the-job treatment, and promotion”.

The Company selects and evaluates employees only on the basis of their job performance and business-related talents and capabilities and corporate business needs. We believe that the Company’s current nondiscrimination policy reflects our commitment and ongoing efforts to provide all employees with a workplace that is free of discrimination and harassment, and that our existing policies achieve those objectives.

Contrary to implications in the proposal, the Company does not believe that it suffers any competitive disadvantage in recruiting or retaining employees or in customer relationships as a result of its employment practices or the language contained in its nondiscrimination policy. The Company has no indication that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is practiced within the Company, nor has the Company received notice from its employees, customers, or suppliers that the Company’s employment policies or practices jeopardize its relationship with any of them. In contrast, we believe that our comprehensive nondiscrimination policy and reputation for protecting equal opportunity in all aspects of employment benefits the Company, its stockholders, and employees.

We recognize the value of a diverse workforce and are dedicated to ensuring that the benefits that a diverse workplace provides maximize the full potential of our employees, customers, vendors, and communities. We believe that our current policy against discrimination, and our procedures to ensure that discrimination does not occur, adequately position the Company to achieve these results.

The Board of Directors recommends that you vote “AGAINST” adoption of this proposal.
Here was the statement I delivered.

Mr. Chairman, fellow shareholders, I am the Reverend John Shuck. I am a local clergyperson and the secretary of PFLAG Tri-Cities. PFLAG stands for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and works in our area for support, education, and advocacy for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons, and their faimilies and friends.

I am here today on behalf of the New York City pension funds to introduce the resolution calling on our company to strengthen its policies against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The New York City pension funds, holders of 345,329 shares of Eastman Chemical , believe that companies have a competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining employees from the widest possible talent pool, and that discrimination based on non-job related criteria can lead to less efficient business operations.

Over the last several years, a number of major US companies have agreed to adopt the anti-discrimination principles presented in our resolution, which include formal commitments to bar discrimination based on gender identity as well as sexual orientation, and also require that there shall be no discrimination in the allocation of employee benefits on the basis of these criteria.

The New York City pension funds believe that Eastman Chemical should join with these companies in supporting both human rights and more efficient business operations, and on their behalf I therefore submit the resolution to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity found in your proxy materials.

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