Sunday, June 9, 2013

Corporate Fraud As a Weapon Against Workers

I recently saw a program  about Andrew Carnegie on the History Channel Series, "The Innovators: The Men Who Built America". Carnegie is usually portrayed as one of the great philanthropists of America of the 19th Century.  But he had a dark side: his feckless dealings with the American labor movement. Rather than face  the likely prospect of labor unrest in one of his own factoriesHomestead Steelhimself, Carnegie shoved off the job of dealing with disgruntled workers onto the Homestead's chairman Henry Clay Frick while Carnegie ran off on a visit to Scotland.  In the name of reducing company expenses,  Frick, at the behest of Carnegie's implied directive and his own antipathy toward the working man cut wages and increased the work day to 12 hours, 6 days per week. Under such conditions, accidents and casualties on the production floor of course mounted until, in 1892, the workers finally rebelled. went on strike, and barricaded themselves in the plant.  Frick responded by bringing in the Pinkerton Agency whose agents shot and killed  9 workers and wounded many more. In the end, the strikers were forced to surrender. Carnegie's reputation suffered for this incident, but the struggle for workers'  rights and unions would continue for many decades.

This was just one of many incidents of physical volence in American history against workers in their attempts to organize and fight for their rights. But there have been other methods utilized as well by employers to render them and their unions powerless, some of which wereand are incredibly brazen.  One example is Peabody Energy Corp. This company, in a deliberate attempt to evade its retiree benefits obligations created a separate entity called Patriot Coal Corp. and transferred those liabilites to that corporation. Subsequently, Patriot filed bankruptcy in order to get out from under these expenses, leaving Peabody indemnified. So apparently, Patriot was really a shell organization all along set up by Peabody for the very purpose of reneging on its contract with the United Mine Workers to which the affected retirees belong. Yet the court approved the bankruptcy.

Union members are protesting this decision and are hoping for legislation or a successful appeal that will overturn this verdict Meantime,  the UMW is continuing negotiations with Patriot. But the very fact that this company and its parent organization would resort to such underhanded tactics in the first place demonstrates bad faith and a lack of trustworthiness that will likely make such bargaining futile and will once again leave the pensioners holding the bag. 

No comments: