(Updated 9:40 a.m. Thursday) As Cigna shareholders held their annual meeting inside Hartford’s Bushnell theater Wednesday afternoon, a coalition of unions and healthcare advocates asked to speak to Cigna CEO David Cordani.
Cops said no.
So a dozen activists decided they would sit down in front of the theater until Cordani came out and spoke to them or they got arrested.
Cordani didn’t come out, nor did anyone from the company, so the 12 were charged with criminal trespassing in the first degree after receiving an ultimatum from Hartford Police.
According to Steve Thornton, an organizer with SEIU Local 1199, healthcare advocates sent a letter to Cordani and didn’t receive a response. Activists tried to paint the health insurance company as a greedy corporate entity that handsomely pays its executives while overcharging consumers.
“Now he knows we’re going to follow up that letter with this kind of action. I think that’s an effective day’s work,” Thornton said.
A Cigna spokesman said the company respects the rights of people to express their opinions.
“Our primary goal for the annual meeting is to give our shareholders the opportunity to talk about their company in a safe and secure environment. The voting on important items underscores the strong support we enjoy from the owners of our company,” Joseph Mondy a Cigna spokesman said in an emailed statement. “Cigna supports improving the health care system and we are hard at work developing products and services that will provide more citizens with access to quality and affordable care. We welcome the open and peaceful exchange of ideas to help realize the very best service for our more than 70 millions customer relationships across the globe.”
Last summer, Cigna was the first company to qualify for tax benefits under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s “First Five” program. The tax incentive program made the company eligible for between $50 million and $71 million for creating between 200 and 800 new jobs.
In December, the Bloomfield-headquartered company announced it would move a number of accounting jobs to India, but that the layoffs would be offset by the new Connecticut job openings.
Protesters were particularly upset about Cordani’s salary — $9.77 million in 2010 — calling the tax incentives “corporate welfare.”
“Arrest Cordani” the crowd chanted as police led protesters away to be booked.
Police estimated the size of the crowd at between 150 and 200 people.
Three healthcare advocates were able to attend the shareholders meeting after previously receiving proxy status as representatives of organizations who hold shares in Cigna.
John Murphy, who represented AFSCME shareholders in the meeting, said afterwards that he and two proxies representing SEIU, were each given a chance to pose two questions to Cordani taking no more than five minutes.
Murphy said he asked Cordani if it was company policy to minimize utilization of medical resources in order to maximize shareholder profit. According to Murphy, Cordani replied that while low utilization of medical resources was a cause of large profits this year, it was not company policy.
Murphy said that he and the other two proxies, Julie Kushner of the United Auto Workers and Rev. Demaris Whittaker of the Interfaith Fellowship for Universal Healthcare, were the only shareholders to ask questions during the hour-long meeting.
Cordani acknowledged that Cigna receives subsidies from other jurisdictions, like Pittsburgh and Delaware, and that Cigna was trying to get more, Murphy said.
“I said ‘thank you, that’s great.’ And I gave him the thumbs up and stepped down,” Murphy said.
The sound of drums and chanting were clearly audible inside the meeting, though they were never acknowledged by company executives, according to Murphy.
“It wasn’t drowning anything out, but it was the soundtrack. It was the background noise,” Murphy said.
Back outside the meeting, David Roche, President of the Connecticut’s unionized building trades, said that he joined the picket line outside the shareholders meeting to protest Cigna’s decision to lobby against healthcare reform.
“I think its all an attack on the middle class. I really do. Whether its jobs on the busway or giving people healthcare,” Roche said, referring to recent efforts to stop the Hartford-to-New Britain busway.
Roche said he was trying to figure out how the company gets tax breaks and tax incentives from the state and then turns around to fund efforts to lobby against healthcare reform.
Karen Schuessler, director of Citizens For Economic Opportunity, said that the state “giving money to [Cigna] is just giving candy away. It’s nothing. It does nothing for our state,” she said.
“There needs to be a larger quid pro quo,” added protester Win Heimer.
The 12 who were arrested have a court date set for May 1. “International workers day,” noted Thornton.