Uh-oh. It looks like a social clash could be in the works for Ford's annual meeting May 11 in Wilmington.
The opening shot was fired Tuesday by the American Family Association, which sent an e-mail alert encouraging supporters who live near Wilmington and own Ford stock to show up at the annual meeting. It's part of a campaign to drum up support for a controversial shareholder proposal opposed by management.
The proposal, which Ford management wanted to keep out of the proxy and off the annual meeting agenda, would force the automaker to remove sexual orientation and activity from the protection of its equal employment opportunity policy.
Ford filed what's called a "no action" letter but the Securities and Exchange Commission ruled that the proposal must stay on the agenda.
Opponents of gay marriage say that domestic partner benefit policies at Ford and other companies encourage homosexuality, which they oppose.
The association is one of a score of groups boycotting Ford over what they consider the automaker's support for homosexuality, and if they can get their backers to turn out in force, you can bet gay rights groups will be there too.
The proposal doesn't have a prayer.
Institutional investors, which control big blocks of stock, usually line up with management and are certain to vote against it.
But that doesn't mean the issue will go away.
If the proposal gets enough votes -- 3 percent of the total -- SEC regulations prohibit the company from keeping it off the ballot next year, assuming it will be resubmitted.
The bogey for a resubmitted proposal goes up to 6 percent the second time it's defeated and 10 percent the third time.
There is no evidence the boycott is working, though the e-mail alert mentioned that Ford's March sales were down from a year ago. But it's not clear that the boycott is working because the company was losing market share before the boycott began.
Depending on how much support the proposal gets, the issue could be around for years.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at [email protected]