DETROIT – About two dozen protesters chanting “Pay your fair share!” were escorted out of General Electric’s annual meeting Wednesday at the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center.
GE CEO Jeff Immelt had no sooner opened the meeting with several hundred shareholders in attendance when protesters stood up and began chanting. Immelt delayed the start of the meeting for several minutes while security guards led the protesters out. The protesters continued to chant from outside the ballroom.
The chant referred to reports that GE paid no corporate income taxes in some years due to various tax breaks.
Once the protesters had been removed, Immelt resumed the meeting. He told the audience, “We’re happy we brought jobs here. … We are proud to be in Detroit this morning.”
GE spokesman Andrew Williams said the protesters evidently were shareholders because otherwise they would not have been allowed into the meeting, where attendees went through screening similar to airport security. There had been reports in recent days that protesters might have bought GE stock so they would be able to attend the meeting.
GE Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer Keith Sherin addressed the tax issue during his remarks to shareholders, saying that GE complied with tax laws all over the world wherever it did business. He said GE paid $2.6 billion in taxes in the United States last year. “We are a large taxpayer,” he said. “We pay our taxes.”
The first speaker during the shareholder comment section told Immelt that GE had “violated the public trust” in a variety of ways. Immelt identified the speaker as Tom Borelli.
Another shareholder speaker, Deneen Borelli, the spouse of the earlier speaker, accused GE of “crony capitalism” and asked Immelt if GE supported the introduction of new high-efficiency light bulbs.
Subsequent speakers criticized GE for its involvement in nuclear energy by designing nuclear reactors. They cited the 2011 disaster at a Japanese nuclear site after an earthquake and tsunami. “You’re in a cauldron of culpability,” one speaker told Immelt and the meeting.
Immelt concluded the meeting after one hour and several more shareholder questions.