Occupy protesters rally at a Peabody Energy shareholders meeting at the Peabody Opera House on Tuesday, May 1, 2012. Photo by Christian Gooden, firstname.lastname@example.org
ST. LOUIS • “Pay up, Peabody!” was the theme of protesters who disrupted Peabody Energy’s annual shareholders’ meeting, shouting Tuesday that the coal giant is a corporate tax dodger.
At least seven times, protesters stood up at the meeting to yell “Peabody pay up” and other slogans as they were escorted out by company representatives and police. No arrests were reported.
Afterward, more than 100 people — many affiliated with labor unions or the Occupy Movement — demonstrated outside the Peabody Opera house, where the meeting was held.
For the most part, Greg Boyce, the company’s chairman and chief executive, ignored the protesters’ shouts as he conducted the annual meeting, attended by about 100 shareholders.
“In our view, we certainly pay our fair share,” he told shareholders.
In a statement, Peabody said that in 2011 it paid $1.4 billion in taxes, fees and royalties, including more than $200 million in federal, state and local taxes.
Peabody paid Boyce $10.2 million last year, including a $2.6 million bonus that was close to the maximum allowed in his compensation plan. His total pay was up 6.5 percent from 2010.
After the meeting, Peabody released another statement that said last year marked the best financial results — including a $958 million profit — and strongest safety performance in the company’s 129-year history. Boyce said in the statement that the “global supercycle for coal was alive and well, with rising electricity generation and steel demand in China and India driving strong demand for coal.”
In comments to shareholders, Boyce described Peabody’s commitment to St. Louis, its decision to keep and expand its downtown headquarters and its support of the St. Louis Zoo. He noted the meeting’s location at the Peabody Opera House, after the company paid an undisclosed amount in 2010 to the rename the former Kiel Opera House, which reopened last fall after a $78.7 million renovation and restoration.
Every few minutes, protesters — singly or in small groups up to six people — rose to interrupt Boyce. Other shareholders and Peabody directors, seated in a row next to Boyce on the meeting room’s stage, sat quietly as the still-shouting demonstrators were led away.
Boyce’s comments about Peabody’s corporate citizenship made no impression on protesters, who decried what they said was Peabody’s failure to pay its fair share of taxes. Many in the noisy crowd outside the opera house waved signs as they chanted “We pay taxes, so should you” and “This is what democracy looks like.”
Police kept demonstrators behind temporary metal barricades set up along the sidewalk in front of the opera house.
Michelle Witthaus, an Occupy St. Louis member among the protesters escorted from the shareholders meeting, later joined the demonstrators outside. Citing a report last year by Citizens for Tax Justice, a public-interest research group, she said in an interview that Peabody shortchanged city public schools by paying no state income taxes in 2008 or 2010.
Witthaus, 35, said she had seen the effect of inadequate funding as a teacher in a city elementary school. She said her school lacked a sufficient number of computers and other equipment to help children get ready for a high-tech world.
“Our kids in the city of St. Louis will not be prepared for the future,” she said.
At the close of the meeting, the company announced that shareholders had voted to retain Boyce and all other board members, who had sat in a row of chairs across the stage of an ornate meeting room. Shareholders rejected a proposal by Sister Barbara Jennings, coordinator of the Midwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, to require Peabody to disclose more details of its lobbying activities.
Jennings said shareholders learned only from media reports that Peabody is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which had a role in persuading more than 20 state to enact “stand your ground” laws. Florida’s “stand your ground” law is a focus of the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by a member of a neighborhood watch group.
Boyce replied that the company believed its existing disclosure rules are adequate.