Workforce.com

Unions Question Private Equity Firm Buyouts

June 27, 2007

While many of Wall Street’s most powerful executives convened at a conference inside the New York Stock Exchange, labor organizers on the street outside voiced their concerns about the implications of these deals on the workforce and on American families.

Braving 93-degree heat today, June 27, officials from the Service Employees International Union and the Working Families Party held a news conference on Wall Street to kick off a yearlong campaign addressing their concerns about private equity buyouts.

Inside the New York Stock Exchange,  The Wall Street Journal was hosting a conference on “Deals & Dealmakers.” Speakers included Lloyd Blankfein, the chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, and Carl Icahn, a longtime player in the private equity world.

“While they are talking about the future of the industry, we are talking about how this is affecting working families throughout the country,” said Dan Cantor, executive director of the Working Families Party, a New York-based labor party, in an interview before the press conference.

During the press conference, Cantor and Stephen Lerner, assistant to SEIU president Andy Stern, announced the launch of the yearlong Private Equity Accountability Campaign, during which the union and labor party will target specific private equity firms with protests and demonstrations.

On June 28, in Chicago, the groups plan to hold a prayer vigil outside a shareholder vote on Clayton, Dubilier & Rice’s buyout of ServiceMaster, a Memphis, Tennessee-based home-services provider.

“ServiceMaster uses toxic chemicals,” Lerner said in the press conference. “We are calling on them to become a truly green company.”

A spokeswoman for ServiceMaster was unavailable for comment.

The next stop on the campaign will be Times Square in New York, where on July 18, the groups will hold a tour of the various businesses now owned by private equity.

“From Dunkin’ Donuts to AMC Theatres to Madame Tussaud’s—these are all owned by private equity,” Cantor says.

Other targets of the campaign will be Bain Capital, a Boston-based venture capital firm, and Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, which are leading a private equity takeover of Sallie Mae, the student loan provider.

The goal of the campaign is to pressure private equity firms to make their intentions more public and to work with labor to ensure that workers don’t lose their pensions and their jobs, Lerner said.

“These takeovers are not just happening with distressed manufacturers, they are also happening in other parts of the economy,” Lerner said in an interview.

Last month, the SEIU published a paper, “Behind the Buyouts,” which details how private equity deals have cost workers their benefits and jobs.

Lerner realizes it’s going to take more than a few union protests to get private equity firms to address the group’s concerns.

Ultimately, the groups hope to persuade Congress to pass legislation that will force private equity firms to be more public with their transactions.

“This is going to take some time,” Lerner said at the press conference. “We believe legislation will be necessary.”

—Jessica Marquez

For a related story, please see: "Union Takes Aim at Equity Buyouts"