About 50 protesters bused in from around the state rallied in front of the downtown Akron headquarters of FirstEnergy Corp. on Thursday afternoon.
In a news release, the group called Fight for a Fair Economy said it brought its “March Against Madness” to Akron because “corporate energy giant FirstEnergy is raking in billions of dollars of profits on the backs of hard-working Ohioans, while paying effectively no federal income taxes and leaving 83,107 customers in the dark by shutting off their service.”
On its website, the group said it is “a collaboration of efforts between Service Employees International Union, labor allies, community partners and grass-roots supporters to fight back against attacks on working people and their families all across Ohio.” “While anti-worker politicians and special interest groups have begun to tear apart the fabric of social and economic justice, the power remains in the voices of our fellow citizens,” the website said.
FirstEnergy employees are not represented by the SEIU, said company spokesman Mark Durbin.
The group said consumers from Northeast Ohio rallied in Cleveland, Toledo and Youngstown earlier in the day, then boarded buses to Akron.
The protesters stayed about half an hour.
Durbin said the protesters were “woefully misguided.”
“Their claims are ridiculous,” he said. “FirstEnergy pays about a billion dollars every year for all kinds of taxes. To suggest we don’t pay our ‘fair share’ of taxes points to a woefully misguided understanding of how business works.
“We follow all existing tax laws. In fact, Ohio Edison alone pays almost $200 million of FirstEnergy’s billion- dollar figure.” Ohio Edison is the Akron electric unit of FirstEnergy.
Durbin theorized that the group might be referring to 2008 through 2010, when the federal government allowed for accelerated depreciation on construction projects in an effort to stimulate the economy. “All this did was defer current income taxes to be paid at a later date. We are not avoiding our tax liability, only deferring it,” he said. “Because electric utilities are typically very capital intensive businesses, we showed up on these ‘lists.’
“As to disconnecting customers, we make every effort to work with customers who have trouble staying current with their bills to help establish a payment plan Disconnection is a last resort and most people who are disconnected make arrangements to have their power restored within two days or sooner.”