Support Common Dreams Today
Journalism that is independent, non-profit, ad-free, and 100% reader-supported.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
Proxy Preview 2019, released today by As You Sow, Sustainable Investments Institute (Si2), and Proxy Impact, offers a comprehensive look at nearly 400 shareholder resolutions filed on environmental, social, and sustainable governance (ESG) issues. Of the 400, 303 are now headed for votes at corporate annual meetings this spring.
Corporate political influence spending and climate change top investors' concerns in about half the proposals filed. Yet investors also want more diverse boards of directors, better sustainability disclosure, more transparency, and action on human rights, fair pay, and equitable working conditions. Investors this spring also will get to cast votes on corporate connections to contentious immigration practices, digital privacy, hate speech, and the opioid crisis.
"Shareholder proposals challenge corporate boards and give investors a chance to weigh in on how their companies can respond to the biggest issues of our time," Heidi Welsh, executive director of the Sustainable Investments Institute (Si2) and co-author of Proxy Preview 2019, said. "This year underscores that neither political dysfunction nor a lighter regulatory approach in Washington mean companies can ignore the views of investors."
Starting in 2017, several major mutual funds that own influential stakes in nearly every corner of the American financial markets started to support shareholder requests for better climate change disclosure, pushing up votes. In 2018, they also lent support for more transparency about possible culpability in the opioid epidemic as well as gun control -- prompting 12 unprecedented 50-percent plus victories. A key question this year is where the big funds will weigh in next.
"As every environmental and social system reaches a breaking point, corporate executives and boards listen carefully to shareholders who want collaborative action on the path to a safe, just, and sustainable future," Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow, said. "The 2019 shareholder resolutions offer a roadmap that will help companies and their investors lead the way."
Record high shareholder votes in the last two years and growing acceptance of the importance of sustainability issues by mainstream investors have provoked a backlash from some politicians and industry groups. They want to limit shareholders' right to speak through these resolutions. It's not yet clear if the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rules will be changed, but the 2019 proxy season will certainly provide more fodder for the debate.
"Shareholder rights are under attack," Michael Passoff, CEO of Proxy Impact and co-author of Proxy Preview 2019, said. "Shareholder proposals were designed as a formal communication channel between investors and management. For more than 40 years shareholder proposals have successfully identified risk and opportunities that have improved corporate policies and practices."
As You Sow is the nation's non-profit leader in shareholder advocacy. Founded in 1992, we harness shareholder power to create lasting change that benefits people, planet, and profit. Our mission is to promote environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy, coalition building, and innovative legal strategies.
"Instead of holding accountable Big Oil CEOs for causing last year's record-setting gas prices, the new majority is hellbent on making political statements as American families suffer."
Climate watchdogs warned Monday that a bill House Republicans are expected to vote on this week is a thinly veiled effort to open more public lands and waters to planet-wrecking oil and gas drilling.
The Strategic Production Response Act, led by new House Energy and Commerce Committee chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), aims to curtail presidential authority to release oil from the United States' strategic reserve—something President Joe Biden did on a major scale last year in an attempt to curb gas prices.
But Joshua Axelrod, a senior advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) who focuses on public lands, noted in a blog post Monday that "despite its title, the bill neither responds to any existing problem nor advances any coherent or achievable energy policy."
"Under the guise of limiting the use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), the Strategic Production Response Act appears, in fact, to be focused on establishing a federal oil and gas leasing mandate that eclipses all past efforts to hand over public lands and offshore areas to oil and gas companies," Axelrod wrote. "How? Under the proposed language, no non-emergency drawdown of the SPR can take place without the development of a plan from the Secretary of Energy and other relevant agency heads to 'lease for oil and gas production... [on lands and waters] by the same percentage' as the planned SPR drawdowns (up to 10%)."
"Put more clearly: If 1% of the SPR is to be drawn down, a plan to lease 1% of available public lands or offshore areas must first be developed," Axelrod added, cautioning that—if passed—the measure would "lock in another century of oil and gas."
In a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm expressed strong opposition to Rodgers' bill, arguing it would cause "more oil supply shortages in times of crisis and higher gasoline prices for Americans."
Jordan Schreiber, the director of energy and environment at the progressive watchdog group Accountable.US, echoed that warning in a statement Monday.
"McCarthy and his MAGA majority are making it clear right out of the gate—they'd rather play politics than provide much-needed relief for American consumers," said Schreiber. "This bill hamstrings the executive branch, taking away a critical tool in combating rampant price gouging at the pump while making it easier to give our public lands away to the very companies responsible for artificially high prices. Instead of holding accountable Big Oil CEOs for causing last year's record-setting gas prices, the new majority is hellbent on making political statements as American families suffer."
Accountable.US also released an analysis countering Republican claims that have been used to justify the Strategic Production Response Act.
\u201cJUST IN: The @HouseGOP is taking up legislation that would prevent @POTUS from combating industry price gouging and make it easier for Big Oil to gain control of public lands.\n\nThe MAGA majority would rather play politics than provide relief to Americans. \nhttps://t.co/XtmCpd1hmw\u201d— Accountable.US (@Accountable.US) 1674487452
The Biden Interior Department has itself come under fire from environmentalists for auctioning off huge swaths of public lands and waters for oil and gas extraction despite the president's campaign vow to put an end to such drilling. Recent research shows that drilling on public lands and waters has been responsible for roughly a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas pollution since 2005.
In 2021, the Biden administration approved more onshore oil and gas drilling permits per month than the Trump administration did during its first three years in power.
Nonetheless, Republicans awash in Big Oil campaign cash have repeatedly accused the Biden administration of being insufficiently aggressive when it comes to turning federal lands and waters over to the profit-soaked fossil fuel industry.
Rodgers, who received $218,367 from individuals and PACs associated with the oil and gas industry during the last election cycle, said in a floor speech earlier this month that "it's time to cut the red tape and expand energy production here at home."
With Democrats narrowly controlling the Senate, the bill—one of several Big Oil-friendly measures Republicans are planning to advance in the coming months—is unlikely to make it to Biden's desk.
Axelrod of NRDC argued it is "not hyperbole" to conclude that Rodgers' legislation proposes "a leasing plan so massive in scale it would eclipse all historic precedent and pave the way for federal oil and gas leasing well into the next century."
"The agencies implicated by this proposal have jurisdiction over 3.1 billion acres of onshore and offshore areas, suggesting that the 10% limit on acreage that could be leased translates into 314 million acres. That's more than eight times as many acres currently under lease," Axelrod wrote.
"This attempted public lands and waters giveaway comes as we are inundated daily with news of the escalating effects of the climate crisis on the United States," he added. "The incoming House majority appears to view those hardships and the enormous costs they impose on the U.S. economy as mere inconveniences to their laser-focused drive to prop up an oil and gas industry that not only recorded record-breaking profits in 2022, but also, is about to achieve record-breaking domestic production."
Across the political spectrum, 57% of respondents said they believe the government should ensure everyone in the U.S. has health coverage.
A new poll released by Gallup on Monday offered the latest evidence that Democratic leaders who continue to fight the progressive push for Medicare for All are out of touch with their own party, as more than 7 in 10 Democratic voters support a government-run healthcare system in which every American could participate and receive high-quality, free care.
Seventy-two percent of Democratic voters support what Gallup referred to as a "government-run healthcare system," compared to just 26% who backed continuing a "system based mostly on private health insurance," such as the "healthcare marketplace" created by the Affordable Care Act under the Obama administration in 2010. Under the law, 27.5 million Americans still were without health insurance as of 2021.
President Joe Biden suggested in 2020 that he would veto Medicare for All legislation if it passed in Congress and reached his desk, and said during the 2020 presidential campaign that the proposal to improve Medicare and expand it to all Americans was "unrealistic," adding that voters would prefer the option of keeping their employer-based health insurance if they have it.
The Gallup poll calls that claim into question, "with Democrats indicating support for a system where the government not only guarantees coverage but provides healthcare," reported Gallup.
The survey suggested that a majority of Democratic voters—contrary to repeated claims by the corporate media and Democratic leaders—hold views on healthcare that are closer to those of Medicare for All proponents such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), among a growing number of progressives in Congress.
The poll also found that across the political spectrum, 57% of respondents said the government should ensure all people have healthcare coverage—the highest number to say so in a Gallup poll since 2018.
Nearly half—46%—of independents also backed a government-run national healthcare program, but 50% were opposed, and the vast majority of Republicans backed a private health insurance system.
The poll comes days after another Gallup survey showed that under the current healthcare system, in which private insurance companies are expected to raise premium prices by between 6% and 12% this year, nearly 40% of Americans said they or a family member avoided or delayed seeking medical care in the last year due to cost.
\u201c@Gallup's annual #healthcare poll reports nearly 40% of Americans delayed medical care due to cost concerns last year. Experts emphasize that patients who skip preventive care and screenings risk worsening medical conditions. https://t.co/KKS8VQ1ttL\u201d— Podimetrics (@Podimetrics) 1674168241
Just 12% of respondents in another poll released last September said they believed the U.S. healthcare system is run "very" or "extremely" well.
"This contract contains important gains on the issues most important to our members," said the president of the UIC United Faculty union.
Faculty members at the University of Illinois Chicago suspended their strike on Sunday after reaching a tentative deal with school administrators that includes minimum salary increases for both tenure-track and non-tenure-track staff.
"This contract contains important gains on the issues most important to our members," Aaron Krall, president of the UIC United Faculty (UICUF) union, said in a statement early Monday. "We are especially proud of winning $60,000 minimum salaries for our lowest-paid members and the commitments on student wellness and disability testing."
According to the union, the tentative contract deal—which must be ratified by UICUF members—includes:
The deal with university administrators was reached four days after faculty walked off the job last week to protest the lack of progress in contract negotiations and the school's refusal to budge on their demands for larger pay raises to account for higher living costs.
"We won! Strike suspended!" UICUF tweeted late Sunday following a nine-hour bargaining session that produced the tentative contract deal. "Feel free to notify your students that classes will resume tomorrow (Monday). Much, much more information is forthcoming, as well as a membership meeting where you all will vote on whether or not to ratify this contract."
As the local Chicago Sun-Timesreported Monday: "The agreement came after nine months of bargaining and 34 negotiation sessions, about half involving a federal mediator. Professors have been working without a contract since August."
Irene Mulvey, president of the American Association of University Professors, told the newspaper that "the academic labor movement is on fire right now."
"We've had decades of disinvestment at the federal and state level," Mulvey added. "[Higher education] is at a breaking point. And I think the answer is faculty organizing."
Last month, University of California graduate student workers ratified a contract deal that included better pay and benefits, ending a six-week strike that marked the largest academic employee walkout in U.S. history.
"The effects of the historic strike still reverberate across the nation, helping energize an unprecedented surge of union activism among academic workers that could reshape the teaching and research enterprise of American higher education," the Los Angeles Timesreported earlier this month. "In 2022 alone, graduate students representing 30,000 peers at nearly a dozen institutions filed documents with the National Labor Relations Board for a union election."