Union Pension Power

In response to a request from the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, American Express Co. is slicing retirement benefits for top executives by more than ten percent. According to Wall Street Journal reporter Robin Sidel, the changes “come amid shareholder criticism over supplemental executive retirement plans, or SERPS, that award big pay packages to departing executives.” (See “Top Executives at American Express Will See Retirement Benefits Shrink” – January 27-28, 2007).

This is not the first time that unions have taken an activist stance nor will it likely be the last. Check out the long list of Annual Group Meeting (AGM) resolutions brought by union pension plans, courtesy of Ms. Jackie Cook, a researcher on director interlocks and corporate social responsibility. Click here to access the list.

Now that new, and arguably more rigorous, SEC executive compensation disclosure rules are in effect, it will be interesting to observe union response. Will juicy corporate pay packages encourage even more attempts at reform? Will rank-and-file workers find it difficult to lobby for cuts in executive perks while asking for personal hikes? How will the dual role of employee and shareholder affect union clout?

“Workers unite” could start to take on an altogether different meaning.