Employers big and small are taking measures to get their workers to the polls to vote on Election Day.
General Motors, Patagonia and Western Union have told workers to take the day off so they can vote. Patagonia is taking it a step further and closing its stores.
They are among 330 companies to sign on to a Twitter campaign that maintains a running list of companies giving employees time off to vote, a gesture inspired by California venture capitalist Hunter Walk. The campaign began earlier this summer when Walk asked start-up founders to give their employees time off on Election Day, asking them to tweet or email him to sign on.
The list includes 11 Virginia companies and five in D.C., most of them technology companies.
Arlington cybersecurity company Distil Networks is one of them. Its 33-year-old founder and CEO, Rami Essaid, moved to America from Syria at a young age. He founded his company in 2011 with early help from government technology funding and grew it to a few hundred employees.
Today Essaid’s birth country is embroiled in a devastating civil war, and the resultant refugee crisis has been front and center in some of the 2016 U.S. presidential election’s most chaotic moments.
He had a strong message for employees thinking of avoiding the polls, sent in a company-wide email:
“Once every couple of years we get a chance in the U.S. that many people around the world don’t ever get the opportunity to experience; and that is to choose who will represent us nationally and globally.
“As an immigrant, I look back to Syria where hundreds of thousands of people are fighting and dying for this very right. As a Syrian-American, I can’t take the opportunity to vote for granted and I ask that you don’t either. On election day, DO NOT come to work UNTIL you vote.”
Essaid finds himself in the final weeks of an election where one candidate, Donald Trump, has recommended “extreme vetting” of immigrants and threatened to ban Muslims from entering the country, and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson seemed not to know what Aleppo was in a television interview.
With his company nestled in Northern Virginia, Essaid’s employees are in a pivotal position in this year’s election, where Hillary Clinton holds a modest lead in the polls heading into Election Day.
“I think we’re getting to the point where people are just over this election, but we’re also at the point where apathy could give us some pretty disastrous results,” he said, declining to express support for either candidate.
He said he doesn’t mind if people take the day off to vote, and his company is sponsoring a happy hour for those sporting an “I voted” sticker on Tuesday.
Other businesses that plan to stay in operation are finding ways to get out the vote. Managers at Contactually, a D.C.-based technology start-up, are cancelling all meetings on Nov. 8 and letting employees set their own hours.
DataRPM, a California technology company with an office in Fairfax, is offering an “exclusive happy hour” for those that vote.
Canvas, a technology company based in Reston, has been pushing employees to vote throughout election season. For months Canvas operated three voter registration tables at the company’s office and an associated co-working space. Chief executive James Quigley is giving all his employees the day off, but not before he made them check their voter registrations online, handing out mobile devices for them to do so.
Employees were encouraged to take a picture of themselves at the polls and share it in the company-wide Slack channel, but there’s no penalty for failing to do so.
Quigley says he didn’t explicitly push employees to vote for one candidate or another, but people were aware of some company leaders’ leanings.
“Clearly we live in a very blue area and the company in general has more of those values,” Quigley said. “It was clear what some members of our senior staff thought, but we tried to be soft about pushing people one way or the other.”