Edward Reese was livid. "What do you mean, I can't replace Barney? He was the one responsible for the company's grand theft conviction!"
Claire Fuller looked pained at the overweight 62-year-old CEO's protestations. "I'm sorry, Mr. Reese, but locking in your executive staff for the next three years is one of the terms of Fremont-Wayfarer's sentence. As the company's parole officer, I'm responsible for seeing that all of the conditions levied by the court are met. No exceptions."
The lodging and food services conglomerate's high-profile trial had broken new ground in jurisprudence, and its behavior under the terms directed by Judge Clary was being given a great deal of press coverage. Ever since the Supreme Court confirmed the conferral of complete citizenship to corporations in the SandHill Realty decision, both the popular press and the blogosphere were heady with this new way to reign in corporate greed. This was the test case, the first imprisonment of a legal fiction.
"It's just not fair. A corporation exists to make a profit. How can we do that if we're hamstrung with all of these requirements? Forced unionization? What gives the court the right to--."
"What gives the court the right?" A serious-looking man in work clothes stood astride the conference room's open doorway. "What gave you and your fellow slime the right to steal money from your own employees?" He glanced away in disgust. Then more calmly, he added, "Good afternoon, Ms. Fuller," before taking a seat at the long table.
Reese shook his head indignantly. "Who is that, and what is he doing at a meeting of the Board of Directors?"
She stepped to the table. "This is Alizondo Klee, Mr. Reese. He's here to represent the people who work for your travesty of a corporation."
Klee smiled. "Have you ever actually spoken to any of the thousands of men and women who's honest sweat in the farms, processing plants, restaurants and motels pads your wallet? It's easy to ignore people without a voice, without a seat at the table, isn't it, Mr. Reese? So, on behalf of all of those people on behalf of Fremont-Wayfarer's newly unionized workforce I thank you for running this business so dishonestly that the court saw fit to give us that voice, and this seat at your table."
Reese winced at the man's proffered hand, but did not shake it. While he walked to the far side of the table and took a seat, two other people entered, both of whom he knew.
One was Nestor Bouvior, a long time friend and golfing buddy, whose real estate empire made getting prime real estate for motels that much easier. He was also the Chairman of the Board of Directors, or was, until Judge Clary reformulated it. Now, he was just there for continuity, and to answer probing questions.
The last to enter was Norman Wells, and although his official capacity with the Securities and Exchange Commission normally limited him to matters of stock issuance and so forth, under the court's direction, he also represented the interests of any other oversight bodies that affected the operation of the conglomerate. Reese was not especially pleased to have him here, because Claire Fuller was the acting Chair, which meant he had no discretion to look the other way. Then again, maybe this was how he was being punished for enabling the executives of Fremont-Wayfarer to steal all that money from the employees' self-insurance fund.
"Since everyone is here," Fuller said from her seat at the head of the table, "I'll call the meeting to order. Mr. Reese, I understand you have a proposal for the Board to consider."
He glanced nervously at Klee, then composed himself. "I'm sure you can all understand the position this sentence places the business in. Our reputation, such as it was, has been tarnished by all of the press coverage. The vacancy rate at our hotels and motels has skyrocketed, and even the people who do choose to stay in our rooms have been eating elsewhere. We're bleeding red ink."
Bouvior nodded. "I know you well enough by now, Edward, to see where this is going. Only you're not permitted to introduce new products for three years. That must mean you've come up with a work-around."
Claire Fuller's eyebrows rose. "What is your solution to this situation, then, Mr. Reese?"
The embattled CEO stood up, and slowly paced. "According to my legal department, the prohibition against introducing new products must be interpreted according to what a business does. Am I correct in this?"