Today I sent the following letter to Dr. Gretchen Green, the Acting Chair of the National Women’s History Museum:
We ask the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) to withdraw its planned award to General Motors CEO Mary Barra.
As you know, Barra is scheduled to receive the Katharine Graham Living Legacy Award on November 17 as part of your annual de Pizan Honors at The Mead Center for American Theater at Arena Stage in Washington, DC.
Barra has indeed made history – of the wrong kind.
Just three months ago, she sat in front of Congressional Committees and desperately tried to avoid answering questions about the negligence and cover up regarding an ignition switch defect. As Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) said, “It goes beyond unacceptable. I believe this is criminal.” Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said, “Even under the ‘New GM’ banner, the company waited nine months to take action after being confronted with specific evidence of this egregious violation of public trust.”
Barra’s credibility and veracity are called into further question with yesterday’s report that GM ordered 500,000 replacement ignition switches in December 2013, almost two months before it reported the ignition defect to the government.
GM is under federal investigation for bankruptcy fraud and for potentially concealing evidence from regulators about the faulty ignition switch. Shareholders have filed lawsuits for being defrauded. And, as of October 27, the victim’s compensation fund has approved 30 death claims. Meanwhile, GM’s internal investigation only led to the firing of 15 mid-level employees – some of who even got financial settlements – and completely shielded the Board and senior management from accountability.
We have attempted to engage GM on continuing safety problems with only partial success. On March 19, we asked Barra to recall Saturn Ions and other vehicles with a steering loss defect. GM responded on March 31 by recalling 1.3 million vehicles.
On May 13, we asked Barra to recall 6 million Chevy Silverados and other vehicles with a brake line corrosion defect, only to have GM refuse the request on June 27. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received hundreds of complaints of sudden brake loss. A score of motorists have contacted our office with frightening accounts of their brakes failing without warning. Must there be loss of life before Barra acts?
It appears to us that GM’s public relations specialists have embarked on a concerted campaign to rehabilitate Barra’s public image. Arranging for awards is apparently part of that strategy.
On September 23, Barra was featured on a panel on corporate ethics, of all things, at the Clinton Global Initiative conference. That evening, she accepted an award from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, apparently the result of GM underwriting the dinner. On October 28, she received a manufacturing award from the Detroit Economic Club. GM was a $50,000 sponsor of that event, as well.
We believe that Barra should focus on GM’s remaining safety problems before traveling around the country to accept awards.
NWHM does important work. It is undermined by honoring Barra. END LETTER
cc: Congressional Co-Chairs of the NWHM de Pizan Honors:
Senator Susan Collins
Senator Barbara Mikulski
Representative Marsha Blackburn
Representatives Carolyn Maloney
Representative Candice Miller
Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton