An organizer sat with a half dozen activists around smaller tables placed together to form a makeshift conference room table discussing the action taken earlier in the day. They had successfully disrupted a shareholder’s meeting, forced the CEO of company worth nearly $7 billion dollars to refuse questions, and faced arrest despite being proper legal proxy shareholders.
“Was our goal to make news or to ask important questions,” asked the organizer from One Pittsburgh.
The community organization infiltrated EQT Corporation’s annual shareholder’s meeting on Wednesday armed with questions about executive compensation, hydraulic fracking of the Marcellus Shale region, and the growing ownership of our democracy by the one percent. Unfortunately, confusion and tension escalated the event and resulted in shareholders, regardless of affiliation, being threatened with arrest and expelled from the meeting.
Early on, it became clear the company did not want proxy shareholders as they sent many to a lawyer’s table to check their shares. As the meeting commenced a question and answer session opened up but CEO David Porges limited questions to the board of directors’ elections, retaining Ernst & Young as their auditor, as well as executive compensation. According to the groups press release the depth of questions would occupy the company for quite some time:
At EQT’s 2012 shareholder meeting, owners of EQT stock will be asked to approve members of the Board of Directors, sign off on executive compensation, re-engage an auditor, and handle other “routine” matters. But EQT’s routine behaviors have harmed people across the state. That’s why shareholders are preparing to challenge board members shale drilling without a severance tax, about exploiting the Delaware loophole, and about aggressive lawsuits against counties and municipalities in other states that are asking the company to pay its fair share. At a time when budget cuts are threatening environmental regulation, public education, transit, and vital health services, EQT should share the wealth generated from the exploitation of this great resource. Shareholders will also question EQT’s exorbitant CEO compensation, its job creation record, its political contributions, and the environmental concerns that an increasing number of Pennsylvanians have about so-called fracking.
Activists from One Pittsburgh jumped at the opportunity by asking rambling questions about fracking and CEO’s pay. Without more concise and direct questions, Porges attempted to dodge and weave through the truthful accusations hurled his way.
“Thank you for your concern about my well-being,” said Porges in regards to his near $8 million salary in 2011.
Meanwhile outside police arrested two protesters for disorderly conduct as more people rallied in front of EQT headquarters demanding the company pay its fair share.
Contrary to the company’s public statements the drilling for natural gas is actually harmful for the environment and risks contaminating drinking water for millions of people.
One Pittsburgh said in a release “we challenge EQT to be a company that benefits all Pittsburghers, not just it’s own personal interests.”
But that this only objective of any corporation – its own shareholders’ interests. Yet, in that spirit these actions can and should make a statement to corporate CEO’s and executives. Much like shareholders of Citigroup rejected the proposed executive pay package. In fact EQT’s shareholders voted against the board’s position on a key vote. Shareholders decided to declassify the board, forcing the board to annual elections instead of three year terms.
As the meeting grew more tense, Porges lost his footing and called for a 30-minute recess. Porges, board members, and employees left the room with a stunned group of shareholders behind. The meeting was to reconvene at 11:30 a.m. but not with those demanding answers to critical questions. Eventually, police and security coaxed people not on the board or dressed in business attire, out of the building with threats of arrest.
Prior to the restart of the meeting I attempted to re-enter but security also threatened me with arrest for trespassing. Speaking with EQT’s spokeswoman, Natalie Cox resulted in her declaring, “you are not real media.”
Cox cited safety concerns for the decision to adjourn the meeting and forcing shareholders out of the building.
“It really just wasn’t about EQT,” Porges said after a later five-minute meeting…
The reconvened meeting lasted just five minutes and went without criticism. The board turned out to be a bunch of yes men. Porges’ comment to the rest of the board later in the morning missed the mark. The protest and the strong questions are about EQT because the company is a piece of the larger picture that is corporate ownership of our democracy. EQT successfully lobbies Pennsylvanian politicians in order to not pay a severance tax on their energy. They essentially write their own rules and continue to profit at the expense of Pennsylvanians.
EQT’s whitewashing (or greenwashing if you will) of hydraulic fracking will undoubtedly cause irreparable harm on the water systems that millions of people depend upon. Unfortunately, these questions were not presented to the CEO. Even worse, the media glosses over it in favor of covering the juicy tidbit from Hollywood or the sexy story they believe will draw an audience.
Video from outside and the second photograph provided by One Pittsburgh.
© Aaron Krager 2008-2013 | Have any questions? Send me an email.