Companies Are Stuck Between Their Workers and Politicians

Then, last month, Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor in Florida, took action that threatened to derail that movement: Angry that Bob Chapek, the chief executive of the Walt Disney Company, had spoken out against a Florida law called the Parental Rights in Education act or, by its critics, the “Don’t Say Gay” law, the governor retaliated. In a special session of the Legislature, Mr. DeSantis rammed through a bill to strip Disney, one of the largest private employers in Florida, of the autonomous district that it had managed near Orlando for 55 years.

And this week, Politico published a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion showing a majority of the justices voting to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that made abortion a constitutional right in the United States. There isn’t an issue in American politics more incendiary than abortion, and with some 60 to 70 percent of Americans in favor of retaining Roe, it seems there would be increasing pressure on corporate executives to take a stance in favor of abortion rights.

In this case, however, there is likely to be a countervailing pressure that will be hard to ignore. Thirteen states have passed so-called trigger laws that will effectively ban or curtail abortion access almost immediately if Roe is overturned. Another dozen or so are poised to follow the same path. Virtually all of these are red states, led by governors who no doubt saw what Mr. DeSantis did to Disney. In retrospect, following the lead of employees in standing up for climate action, racial justice and the #MeToo movement was a no-brainer for corporations compared with taking a public position on abortion.

When the term “employee activism” started to gain popularity in the early 2010s, young workers — millennials usually with white-collar jobs — led the charge. They were fed up with both corporate greed and corporate indifference to issues they cared about. Millennials are now between the ages of 26 and 41, and they make up a large proportion of corporate employees.

“Millennials lean liberal, by an almost two-to-one margin over previous generations,” said Charlotte Alter, the author of “The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For,” a book about the millennial generation. “They want to work for companies that align with their values. And they understand how much power they have in the system. They see their job as a lever they can pull.”

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