Archive for October, 2009

Getting Corporations to Do the Right Thing

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

pinklidI admit it—the Dirt Diggers Digest is guilty of focusing on the bad news about corporate misdeeds. So in this post I will write about something positive: activist groups that are succeeding in changing corporate behavior for the better.

The occasion for this shift in emphasis is the recent announcement of the winners of the BENNY awards, which are given out by the Business Ethics Network. BEN is an association of organizations and individuals involved in corporate campaigns that seek to pressure companies to end injurious practices relating to the environment, public health and the workplace. (Full disclosure: I have served on BEN’s advisory committee.)

Since 2005 BEN has been giving awards celebrating outstanding victories. During the past few years it has also honored groups that are making progress toward such victories and given individual achievement awards to veteran campaigners.

Each time attend the awards ceremony and hear the descriptions of the campaigns, I find my skeptical shell melting away in a wave of optimism about the prospects for undoing corporate harm. This year was no different.

There was a tie for 1st place in the main BENNY award between the Campaign for Fair Food and Think Before You Pink: “Yoplait—Put A Lid On It!”

The Campaign—led by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and supported by the Presbyterian Church (USA) and others in the Alliance for Fair Food—has made great strides in improving the working conditions of immigrant farmworkers in southern Florida. The campaign has won a string of victories by going around the growers who are the direct employers of the workers and pressuring their major customers (fast food giants, supermarket chains, and major food service companies) to pay more for the produce with the understanding that the difference will go toward higher wages.

Think Before You Pink is a campaign led by Breast Cancer Action that has taken a critical approach toward the growing corporate practice of putting pink ribbons on their products to raise awareness of breast cancer. The campaign started out examining whether those companies are contributing a significant portion of the purchase price toward legitimate cancer research. More recently, it has challenged pink-ribbon companies that make products that have been linked to breast cancer (the campaign calls it “pinkwashing”).

One of its recent targets was Eli Lilly, which sells drugs meant to reduce the risk of breast cancer while at the same time distributing rGBH, an artificial growth hormone used by dairies that is a suspected carcinogen. Earlier this year, the Think Before You Pink campaign got General Mills to stop using rBGH in its Yoplait yogurt, which has extensively used pink-ribbon marketing.

BEN gave its first-place Path to Victory award to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, which is seeking to reduce use of the climate-destroying black fuel through efforts such as organizing students at campuses which depend on coal-generated electricity.  The campaign, which is targeting some schools smack in the middle of coal country, has released a tongue-in-cheek online video with the tagline “Coal is Too Dirty Even for College.”

The Individual Achievement Award went to Sister Pat Daly, a veteran shareholder activist who heads the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, an alliance of Roman Catholic groups in the New York City metropolitan area. She is best known as one of the founders of Campaign ExxonMobil, which pioneered the effort to get the giant oil company to take a less irresponsible position on climate change.

At the BEN awards ceremony, Sister Pat also described facing down former General Electric CEO Jack Welch at a company board meeting. For years, she and other activists had been pressing GE to accept responsibility for cleaning up the PCB contamination it had caused in New York’s Hudson River. And for years the company resisted. Welch’s successor Jeff Immelt eventually relented, and in May 2009 a clean-up effort financed by GE finally began. Sister Pat’s role in that victory certainly deserved to be honored.

Whether over the course of months or decades, the kinds of campaigns celebrated by the BENNY Awards show that corporations can be made to do the right thing.

Is the Recovery Act Stimulating Privatization?

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

AFSCMEKey portions of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, especially the state fiscal stabilization fund, are designed to prevent job loss among teachers and other state and local government employees. But what about the rest?

The assumption seems to be that most of the job creation and retention will take place in the private sector. Yet one question that has received little attention since ARRA was signed by President Obama in February is whether the spending will contribute to the process of privatization and contracting-out of functions previously performed by public sector workers.

On October 15 the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board released the first batch of recipient reporting data covering some $15 billion in direct federal contracts. Although this is a small portion of overall ARRA spending (information relating to the much larger realm of federal grants to states and others will be released on October 30), it begins to shed some light on the privatization question.

My colleagues and I at Good Jobs First have been examining the universe of around 9,000 recipient reports summarized in a national spreadsheet available on the Recovery.gov website. Many of the entries are unremarkable. They involve contracts for functions such as manufacturing and construction that have traditionally been concentrated in the private sector. It is not surprising that the federal government gave an ARRA contract to Chrysler to supply vehicles and one to Clark Construction to build a new headquarters for the Coast Guard.

Yet many of the other entries appear to be part of the contracting-out phenomenon. You can tell this, first, by looking at the names of the contractors: one firm called Federal Contracting Inc. leaves little doubt as to its orientation. There are others that have a reputation for being involved in high-profile outsourcing deals. An example is IAP Worldwide Services, a politically connected firm (former Vice President Dan Quayle is on its board of directors) that got a controversial contract to take over management of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

Or else you can look at the description of the projects. A company called 4W Solutions got a contract from NASA for “administrative activities, configuration management of documents, procurement-related analysis and support for report integration/administrative support for Cross-Agency Support construction contracts.”

To be a bit more systematic in our analysis, my colleagues and I decided to match the Recovery.gov list of contractors to the membership list of the Professional Services Council, the leading trade association for the federal outsourcing industry.

PSC’s members range from large and notorious contractors such as KBR (formerly the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root), Xe Services (formerly Blackwater) and CACI International (linked to the Abu Ghraib torture scandal) to small and obscure consulting firms. During its 27-year history, the association has sought to banish the use of the term “Beltway Bandit” to refer to federal contractors and has pushed for legislation that would maximize the amount of federal work that gets outsourced. It has also resisted the recent move toward insourcing.

We found that, of the 382 PSC members listed on the association’s website, about 50 are on the list of ARRA federal contract recipients (name variations make an exact count difficult). In all, these members and their affiliates have been awarded about 250 ARRA contracts with a total value of more than $800 million.

Some of these involve engineering and construction services, but others deal with functions that are more inherently governmental, such as a contract given to Deloitte Consulting to provide “program management oversight” for ARRA grants made by the Federal Aviation Administration.

In an economic crisis such as the current recession, all job creation is to be welcomed. But it would be a shame if some portion of Recovery Act money is being used in ways that do little more than shift work from the public sector to the private sector.

(Thanks to Tommy Cafcas, Caitlin Lacy and Leigh McIlvaine for their research help.)

Update: I should have mentioned that KBR and Xe Services are not among the recipients of ARRA contracts, but CACI has two.

Further update: We spent more time analyzing the spreadsheet and found many more ARRA contracts that can be attributed to PSC members through joint ventures, affiliates, etc.  Our tally is now about 470 contracts worth a total of about $3.5 billion. These include some huge contracts associated with clean-up projects at Department of Energy nuclear facilities.

Exposing the Executive Pay of Beltway Bandits

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

ARRA logoThe recipient reporting system mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is designed to inform the public on how federal stimulus spending is creating jobs. The just-released first phase of that system still has a considerable number of bugs to work out with regard to its job numbers, but it also represents a new step forward in making the operations of federal contractors more transparent.

The rules governing Recovery Act reporting include a requirement (FAR 52.204-11) that certain contractors disclose the amount of compensation paid to their five highest paid executives. These include companies that receive $25 million or more in federal governments as long as federal contracts account for 80 percent or more of their total revenue.

Publicly traded companies already report this information to the Securities and Exchange Commission in their proxy statements, which are made available to the public. The Recovery Act rule is unusual in that it extends executive compensation reporting to privately held firms, which typically keep such information to themselves.

In the new Recovery Act contract data, several hundred contractors provided compensation information, including many that apparently were not required to do so. As shown in the table below, 14 contractors reported compensation in excess of $1 million for their top executive (not including obvious glitches such as a modest-sized excavating company in Washington State that entered $986 million in the compensation column).

Half of the contractors are part of publicly traded companies, and their compensation amounts match what was previously disclosed by those companies. The rest are privately held, meaning that this may well be the first time the pay of their top executives has been officially disclosed.

The most interesting of these is the huge consulting company Booz Allen Hamilton, which since fiscal year 2000 has been the recipient of more than $16 billion in federal contracts. It does business with many agencies, but it is especially close with the Pentagon. Last year it was the 22nd largest military contractor. The Recovery Act reports do not list executive names, but it likely that Booz Allen CEO Ralph W. Shrader was the one who was paid more than $8.4 million last year.

The Recovery Act does not include funding for military purposes, but it forces Pentagon contractors and other Beltway Bandits that happen to be privately held to reveal how richly they are rewarding their top executives with the help of taxpayer funds.

Top Compensation Amounts Reported by Recovery Act Federal Contractors

JOHNSON CONTROLS BUILDING AUTOMATION SYSTEMS LLC
$17,385,308

RAYTHEON TECHNICAL SERVICES COMPANY LLC
$15,056,151

BOOZ ALLEN HAMILTON INC.
$8,457,003

BALL AEROSPACE & TECHNOLOGIES CORP.
$8,111,298

ENERGYSOLUTIONS FEDERAL SERVICES, INC.
$6,336,752

ADVANCED CONSTRUCTION TECHNIQUES LTD
$2,724,660

DANYA INTERNATIONAL INC.
$2,363,143

ROLLS-ROYCE NORTH AMERICAN TECHNOLOGIES INC.
$2,025,860

WEST VALLEY ENVIRONMENTAL SERV
$1,955,909

SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH CORPORATION
$1,471,745

ORBITAL SCIENCES CORPORATION
$1,448,752

STG, INC.
$1,201,762

PARSONS INFRASTRUCTURE & TECHNOLOGY GROUP INC.
$1,128,070

ENVIRONMENTAL CHEMICAL CORPORATION
$1,016,426

Source: Analysis of the combined state spreadsheets provided at the Recipient Reported tab here.

Notes:

The figure for Johnson Controls Building Automation Systems is apparently the compensation of Stephen A. Roell, CEO of the parent company Johnson Controls Inc., which is publicly traded and thus already reported the compensation of its top officers through its SEC filings. The figure above is the same as that reported for Roell in the company’s latest proxy statement.

The figure for Raytheon Technical Services is the same as that reported for parent Raytheon’s CEO William H. Swanson in the company’s latest proxy statement.

Booz Allen is privately held. Its CEO is Ralph W. Shrader.

The figure for Ball Aerospace is the same as that reported for parent Ball Corporation’s CEO R. David Hoover in the company’s latest proxy statement.

The figure for EnergySolutions Federal Services Inc. is the same as that reported for parent EnergySolutions’ chief financial officer Philip O. Strawbridge in the company’s latest proxy statement.

Advanced Construction Techniques Ltd is privately held. Its president is James Cockburn.

Danya International Inc. is privately held. Its CEO is Jeffrey A. Hoffman.

The figure for Rolls-Royce North American is roughly the same (after currency conversion) as that reported for parent Rolls-Royce PLC chief executive Sir John Rose in the company’s annual report.

West Valley Environmental Services LLC describes itself as “a newly-formed company comprised of four companies – URS Washington Division, Jacobs Engineering Group, Environmental Chemical Corporation (ECC), and Parallax/Energy Solutions – with extensive experience conducting environmental cleanup at Department of Energy (DOE) sites across the United States.” Its compensation figure above is the same as that reported in the proxy statement of URS Corporation for URS Washington Division President Thomas H. Zarges.

Scientific Research Corporation is privately held. Its CEO is Michael Watt.

The figure for Orbital Sciences is the same as that reported by the company for CEO David W. Thompson in the company’s latest proxy statement.

STG Inc. is privately held. Its CEO is Simon S. Lee.

Parsons Infrastructure is a unit of privately held Parsons Corporation, whose CEO is Charles L. Harrington.

Environmental Chemical Corporation (which seems to prefer being called simply ECC) is privately held. Its CEO is Manjiv Vohra.

UPDATE: On October 30 Recovery.gov published a revision of the contractor data that fixed various formatting problems and added names to the executive compensation figures. For more details, see here.

Pressuring Big Business to Start Rehiring

Friday, October 9th, 2009

hyattThe conventional wisdom is that the emerging economic rebound will be a jobless recovery for a long time to come. Yet there is no consensus on why this is the case.

Congressional Republicans are all too willing to cite the purported shortcomings of the Democrats’ stimulus program, but their ulterior political motives are transparent. Some claim that banks are keeping too tight a lid on business credit, while others suggest that newly frugal consumers are to blame for not spending more.

There is surprisingly little criticism being directed at those who are in the best position to do something about joblessness: employers, especially large ones. The assumption seems to be that corporations are helpless victims of economic turmoil and cannot be expected to start hiring again on their own initiative.

Now, it is being said, we need to give companies an extra incentive to replenish their payrolls. Congress and the Obama Administration are reported to be giving serious consideration to the creation of a new tax credit for job creation. This would be a boon for those who get hired, but it is more than a bit infuriating that we now need to subsidize employers to do what used to happen routinely when the business cycle began to turn around.

The coddling of the employer class is all the more questionable given that, in many cases, large-scale layoffs appear to be a matter of choice rather than necessity. Take the case of computer maker Dell, which just announced that it will obliterate more than 900 jobs as part of its decision to close an assembly plant in Winston-Salem, North Carolina that it opened in 2005 after pressuring state and local governments to cough up some $300 million in subsidies. Dell said the move was “part of an ongoing initiative to enhance the long-term value it delivers to customers by simplifying operations and improving efficiency.” Translation: the company has been selling off its production facilities to cut costs and raise profits.

Or consider Simmons Bedding Company, which has laid off 1,000 workers and will probably shed more as it heads to bankruptcy court. Its problems are less the state of the economy than the effects of having been taken over by a series of private equity firms that have milked the operation dry.

Then there’s the situation of the housekeepers at Boston-area Hyatt hotels who were forced out of their $15 an hour jobs so the company could replace them with $8 an hour temps. Before being told that they were being booted out, the housekeepers were asked to train the temps, whom they were told would be filling in during vacations. The layoffs have prompted protests in Boston and around the country (photo).

In Fremont, California, nearly 5,000 workers at the New United Motor Manufacturing plant are losing their jobs because Toyota decided to get rid of its only unionized U.S. operation after the new federally subsidized General Motors exited what had been a 25-year joint venture between the two companies.

Last month, drugmaker Eli Lilly said it would eliminate 5,000 jobs as part of a restructuring designed to “speed medicines from its pipeline to patients.”

These recent examples are part of a trend that began well before the current crisis. For the past decade, U.S. private sector employment levels have been stagnant as corporations engaged in an orgy of offshore outsourcing, union-busting, downsizing and compelling the workers who remained to produce more than ever before.

This is not to say that all job losses can be blamed on restructuring and corporate greed, but neither is it accurate to attribute them all to forces beyond the control of employers. Instead of focusing exclusively on bribing corporations to hire people, it would be good to hear some criticism of big business for failing to do enough to help the country recover from the unemployment crisis—and for causing much of that crisis through its short-sighted and self-interested practices.

For years, large corporations announced layoffs as a way of currying favor with Wall Street. It would be refreshing to have them now feel pressure to announce new hiring to appease the rest of us.

Dissension in the Corporate Ranks

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

donohueBusiness lobbyists may be gloating over the divisions in the Democratic Party on healthcare reform, but they are facing a serious schism of their own.

In recent weeks several large corporations have quit their membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of the giant trade association’s intransigent opposition to the climate legislation now being considered by Congress. The defectors include utilities Pacific Gas & Electric, PNM Resources and Exelon, while shoe giant Nike took a more limited step by resigning its seat on the Chamber’s board.

The resignations represent the most significant internal turmoil in the Chamber since the early 1990s, when the organization outraged some of its members and all of the Republican Party leadership by showing support for portions of the Clinton Administration’s economic policies and healthcare reform proposal. “The Chamber has lost its way,” Rep. John Boehner told Business Week. “It sold out its principles for 30 pieces of silver from Bill Clinton.”

While the Chamber remained appropriately reactionary on most issues, the controversy brought about a shakeup within the organization and probably contributed to the decision of its president Richard Lesher to step down in 1997. The person chosen to succeed him was Thomas J. Donohue Jr., a hardliner described as “militant” and a “junkyard dog.” Among other things, Donohue had, in his role as head of the American Trucking Association, tried to get Congress to ban the use of corporate campaign pressure tactics by unions.

No one could accuse Donohue (photo) of straying from business laissez-faire ideology. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out in 2001, he was also quite willing to use the clout of the Chamber to advance the narrow interests of individual large corporations. Donohue dramatically expanded the organization’s membership and thus its budget, allowing the Chamber to spend unprecedented sums on lobbying.

But now it seems that Donohue and the Chamber have been a bit too orthodox. More and more large corporations are accepting that global warming has to be addressed and that the Waxman-Markey bill passed by the House and the companion legislation now before the Senate would not have the disastrous consequences for business that the Chamber has predicted.

The Chamber, however, increasingly seems to be captive to the coal industry, its railroad partners and other corporate fossil-fuel dead-enders. Environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council are accusing Donohue of having a personal conflict of interest because of his long tenure as an outside director of one of those railroads, Union Pacific.

While the actual resignations from the Chamber are few so far, the number will probably rise. Other members such as General Electric are making it clear the Chamber does not speak for them on climate issues and are facing mounting pressure to make a complete break.

It is refreshing to see dissension in the corporate ranks on the climate debate. If we can continue to drive a wedge between business pragmatists and Neanderthals on this and other issues, we may see some real progress in the federal legislative arena.