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Aug. 27, 2020, 10:47 a.m. EDT

Walmart, Starbucks and a growing number of U.S. companies set to give workers time off to vote

‘No American should have to choose between earning a paycheck and voting’ said PayPal President and CEO Dan Schulman

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By Associated Press


Bloomberg News

A growing number of U.S. companies are pledging to give workers time off to vote in the presidential election this November, an effort that’s gaining steam despite the government’s reluctance to make Election Day a federal holiday.

Starbucks said Thursday it will give its 200,000 U.S. employees flexibility on Election Day, encouraging them to plan ahead with managers and schedule time to vote or volunteer at polling places. The Starbucks /zigman2/quotes/207508890/composite SBUX -1.52%   app will also help customers learn how to register to vote, the company said.

Walmart /zigman2/quotes/207374728/composite WMT -0.84%   says it will give its 1.5 million U.S. workers up to three hours paid time off to vote. Apple is giving workers four hours off. Coca-Cola /zigman2/quotes/209159848/composite KO +0.08%  , Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR -21.11%  , Cisco /zigman2/quotes/209509471/composite CSCO +0.59%   and Uber /zigman2/quotes/211348248/composite UBER -1.91%   are giving employees the day off.

“No American should have to choose between earning a paycheck and voting,” said /zigman2/quotes/208054269/composite PYPL -4.57%  resident and CEO Dan Schulman.

The idea isn’t entirely new. General Motors /zigman2/quotes/205226835/composite GM -1.03%  , Ford /zigman2/quotes/208911460/composite F -2.15%   and FiatChrysler /zigman2/quotes/204248628/composite FCAU -0.97%   have given employees the day off to vote since 1999, when they agreed to the change in a contract with the United Auto Workers union. Patagonia gave its workers the day off starting in 2016.

But this year, the idea is gaining steam. Six hundred companies, including Lyft /zigman2/quotes/208999293/composite LYFT -0.44%  , Airbnb and Paramount, have signed on to ElectionDay.org, which asks companies to give employees time off to vote or distribute information on voting, including how to obtain main-in ballots. It is not clear how many of those 600 are allowing time off versus distributing voting information.

ElectionDay.org — one of several groups asking companies to make voting pledges — is run by Vote.org, a nonpartisan group that tries to increase voter turnout.

In 2018, the first year it was active, ElectionDay.org had 150 companies sign up. This year, it hopes to sign 1,000 by November.

“There is a groundswell of interest coming out for this,” said Nora Gilbert, director of partnerships for Vote.org.

Gilbert said this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and general unease about social inequality may be part of the reason companies are taking a stand on voting.

“There’s a reckoning in general for the role that companies play in society,” she said. “This is a way to show they are getting their own house in order.”

In a letter to employees, Starbucks President and CEO Kevin Johnson said the company’s voting pledge is part of a larger effort to promote racial equality and opportunity in the communities it serves.

“Starbucks will not wait for change. We will make change of our own,” Johnson said.

About half of U.S. states require employers to give workers at least a few hours off to vote in elections, according to Workplace Fairness, a nonprofit that tracks employment issues.

Gilbert said advocates prefer a full-day holiday, since many voters face long lines at their polling places. Companies that don’t offer a full day should make sure to share mail-in voting information and deadlines, she said. All states will mail an absentee ballot to voters who request one, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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