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Some of the companies Unitarian Universalist (UU) representatives petitioned recently include
Texas-based energy companies such as ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and CenterPoint
At Conoco, UUA's Treasurer, Jerry Gabert, filed a resolution for the
company's annual meeting agenda on the subject of discrimination based on sexual
orientation. His letter said, "The lack of an explicit statement prohibiting
sexual orientation discrimination in ConocoPhillips written equal opportunity
policy diminishes both employee morale and productivity. More than half of the
Fortune 500 companies have adopted written nondiscrimination policies
prohibiting harassment and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, as
have more than 75% of Fortune 100 companies."
The ConocoPhillips Board of Directors asked if the UUA would withdraw the
resolution if they would amend their policy. The UUA agreed and ConocoPhillips
has adopted a sexual orientation non-discrimination policy as of May 2003. The
Rev. Bruce Bode, Interim Minister of First Unitarian Universalist Church in
Houston TX, attended its meeting on May 6th to thank the Board for its prompt
The UUA joined with other organizations in filing a resolution to add sexual
orientation to the categories listed in ExxonMobil's written equal opportunity
policy. David Gray, member of the First Unitarian Church of Dallas TX, made the
presentation on May 28, 2003 representing the UUA and the primary filer, the New
York City Employees Pension Funds, which has been very active in shareholder
activism in the last several years. In spite of opposition by the company's
management, the resolution garnered a total vote of 27.1%, an increase over last
year's vote of 23.5% that was up 81% from the previous year's vote. These
resolutions are advisory and not binding, yet carry significant weight when
votes in favor reach this magnitude in the public forum of the stockholders
meetings of large companies.
When Rev. Bode attended the CenterPoint Energy meeting in Houston TX on May
7th, the resolution he presented went down to what he thought was a crushing
defeat. "Only 32% of the shareholders voted in favor," he said. "When, as
requested, I reported this vote outcome to my contact person in the
Comptroller's Office in New York City, he was overjoyed. ‘Thirty-two percent,
why that's wonderful!' he exclaimed. ‘Usually, a resolution that does not have
the support of the Board will bring about 8% of the vote at most. It's now just
a matter of time'. His opinion was supported by an executive from CenterPoint
Energy who approached me after the meeting" said Bode, "both thanking me for
presenting the resolution and assuring me that the policy was on its way to
The subject of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation has received
special attention by the UUA and other concerned shareholders. One of the
leaders of the consortium has been The Equality Project, an equal rights
advocacy organization. They have targeted the top 100 companies included in the
so-called Fortune 500 list of largest publicly-owned businesses. At last count,
90 of them have now explicitly included sexual orientation in the list of
prohibited actions of discrimination. "So next year, we'll have to go after the
second hundred," said Shelley Alpern of Equality Project.
In addition to ConocoPhillips, another of those large companies to agree this
year with the sexual-orientation resolution was J.C. Penny Company, the
Texas-based retailing company, which received a 95% vote by its stockholders.
This substantial vote total resulted when management agreed to amend its
policies and recommended to its shareholders to support the resolution.
Presenter David Aspinall, a member of the First UU Church of Dallas, said,
"Thanks for the opportunity to speak [on behalf of the UUA]. When the floor was
open to discussion, not one dissenter spoke up about non-discrimination
regarding sexual orientation."
The UUA's partnership with the NYC Employee Pension Funds is a unique
combination of a religious organization working with a secular one on social
advocacy matters. Says Patrick Doherty, a senior manager in the NYC
Comptroller's Office, which manages these funds, "Our portfolios have several
billion dollars of assets and thousands of companies' stock. We want to file a
substantial number of resolutions, yet we cannot afford to send people from New
York to attend meetings all over the country." The UUA recruits ministers and
other UUs from congregations throughout the country to attend annual meetings of
corporations and to formally present the resolutions.
One of the recruiters is Jim Gunning, a member of the UUA Board-appointed
Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, who has been coordinating this
partnership for two years. He reports, "This is a win-win situation. NYC is able
to file more resolutions on issues important to them, and we are able to attend
and provide witness on social issues at annual meetings nationwide through our
network of congregations."
Also recruiting is Mr. Gabert, who is another member of this UUA committee.
He reports, "When looking for a presenter in Chicago, I invited the folks at
Meadville/Lombard Theological School and received a prompt response from a
faculty member, the Rev. James Hobart." Mr. Gabert attended two meetings in the
Boston area, those of StrideRite and Raytheon Raytheon where he presented,
respectively, resolutions on global human rights standards and equal opportunity
affirmative action principles for fair employment.
Another opportunity arose when Kenneth Scott, representing a Boston-based
investment firm, Walden Asset Management, asked for help in presenting the
sexual orientation resolution to ALLTEL Company in Arkansas. Up stepped the Rev.
Scotty Meek, Interim Minister of the UU Church of Little Rock, eager to be heard
in such an unusual venue. As part of his statement on behalf of Walden, he said,
"Firms with inclusive employment policies have a competitive advantage in
recruiting and retaining employees from the widest pool of talent."Mr.
Gunning estimates that UUA representatives will attend annual meetings of about
20 large publicly-held companies this year, including Home Depot, Lowe's,
Wal-Mart, Men's Wearhouse, Crane Company, Yum Brands (the Kentucky fried chicken
folks), Federated Department Stores, and Dillards.
Mr. Gunning also represents the UU Service Committee in the area of
shareholder advocacy, and has attended meetings as their representative.UUSC is
co-sponsor with the Committee on Socially Responsible Investing of a workshop on
this topic at the UUA General Assembly (GA) on Saturday June 28th at 1:30 p.m.
entitled "Taking Stock—Investing with Conscience." Denise Moorehead, Deputy
Director for Programs, will be joining Mr. Gunning as presenters.
Another GA event discussing shareholder advocacy will be a major program on
Saturday June 28th at 5 pm entitled "Global Justice, Corporate Accountability
and Responsible Investing" featuring author Amy Domini and shareholder advocate
For more information contact responsibleinvesting @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
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Last updated on Friday, June 17, 2011.
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