GM, Jobs, and Corporate America’s Incentive to Exploit

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

On Monday morning, November 26, the auto giant General Motors announcedplans to shut down production at five plants in the United States and Canada and shear off 15 percent of the company’s salaried jobs. The moves will cost 14,700 GM workers their livelihood.

The communities where those workers live will lose out, too. In Lordstown, the Ohio locale that hosts one of the plants set to be shuttered, officials estimate that every GM job cut will cost seven other workers outside GM their employment.

Did the GM executives who made the shut-down decision take that spin-off devastation into account? Did they soberly conclude that they had no choice, that only massive job cuts could ensure their enterprise a stable and sustainable future? Or do the GM job cuts reflect, in the end, nothing more than naked self-interest on the part of those executives, an attempt to enrich their own future — at worker expense?

The simple answer: We can’t get into the minds of the GM execs who’ve ordered the job cuts. We can’t divine how much greed determined their decision. But we can, rather easily, see who stands to gain from GM’s massive job cutting. Certainly not GM workers. In the wake of the GM layoffs, thousands of workers and their families will be poorer. GM execs, on the other hand, will be richer.

Substantially richer. At GM, as at all major U.S. corporations, the ultimate compensation top executives take home rests either directly or indirectly on their enterprise’s share price. The more that price rises, the more they pocket. In the afternoon after the GM job-cut announcement morning, Wall Streeters bid up the company’s shares a whopping 7.9 percent. Shares ended the week almost as high.

Corporate execs at GM and elsewhere tend to fixate on their share prices. They’ll do most anything to jack them up, even have the corporations they run expend big bucks — an estimated $1 trillion this year — to buy back their own corporate shares on the open market. This maneuver has just one purpose: to heighten demand for a company’s shares and raise the price they sell for. GM execs last year spent $100 million on “buybacks.”

Sam Pizzigati edits Too Much, the online weekly on excess and inequality. He is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. Last year, he played an active role on the team that generated The Nation magazine special issue on extreme inequality. That issue recently won the 2009 Hillman Prize for magazine journalism. Pizzigati’s latest book, Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality that Limits Our Lives (Apex Press, 2004), won an “outstanding title” of the year ranking from the American Library Association’s Choice book review journal.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

No Money for Pensions, But Plenty for Parties

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Private equity work has been sweet for Marc Leder, the numero uno at Sun Capital Partners. He’s parlayed his takeovers of troubled firms into a fortune big enough to make him a co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers in basketball and the New Jersey Devils in hockey. New York’s tabloids, meanwhile, have come to dub the hard-partying Leder “the Hugh Hefner of the Hamptons.” The secret to his success? Private-equity firms, notes Center for Economic and Policy Research economist Eileen Appelbaum, plunder assets from the companies they buy, then send them into bankruptcy to sidestep their obligations to workers. Over the past decade alone, Sun Capital has bankrupted five firms and left their pension funds $280 million short. Leder, for his part, claims that the “vast majority” of Sun Capital deals have been successful. And he only parties hearty, the private-equity kingpin adds, 25 nights a year.

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Embracing a Legacy

Embracing a Legacy