- Labors' Comeback: Pensions and Jobs
Picket signs are being replaced by proxy ballots as union leaders wage a quiet revolution on Wall Street. U.S. workers own over $5 trillion in pension fund assets and another $8 trillion in mutual funds, insurance companies, and bank accounts. That's enough money and power to change the face of corporate America. Through real estate and private equity investments that provide jobs to union workers, unions can hold on to a segment of the market that otherwise would go non-union. By exercising their shareholder rights as owners of 50% of U.S. corporations, pension trustees can influence corporate policy and demand respect for workers' rights. This film, produced in 1998, summarizes the position of the AFL-CIO incumbents on the use of pension fund assets to give workers a voice in corporate America. Although the film is seven years old, it reflects the current thought on this important issue.
The film focuses on two issues: the use of pension fund assets to create jobs and the use of trustee authority to influence investment managers to vote proxies in the best interest of workers. The introductory segment shows Newport News, a $280 million project of Union Labor Life Insurance Company which saved 2,000 shipbuilding jobs. The remainder of the film consists of [End Page 92]\ interviews with AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka, and USWA President Leo Gerard.
President Sweeney describes the role of the federation as a voice for workers and a resource which can empower trustees to challenge investment managers to invest workers' money in worker-friendly investments. Secretary-Treasurer Trumka provides more details on how trustees can use their clout to prevent workers' money from being used to outsource, downsize, and privatize workers' jobs. He also briefly discusses legal requirements which allow pension fund trustees to choose an investment that creates jobs for union members over a financially comparable non-union investment. He emphasizes that corporations must take a long-term approach, rather than focusing on quarterly profits. Leo Gerard, then Secretary-Treasurer of the Steelworkers Union, describes Canada's Solidarity Fund which can be a model to develop worker-friendly investment vehicles in the United States.
The film has a few flaws. It does not adequately introduce the subject and leaves many terms undefined and so it is inappropriate for a novice audience. The film would be more effective and dynamic if the host, Hedrick Smith, provided a solid background of the issue, interspersing interview clips where appropriate. That said, it is a worthwhile film with little or no competition.
Labor's Comeback: Pensions and Jobsproduced by Hedrick Smith Productions, may be ordered from Films for the Humanities & Sciences, http://www.films.com, 800-257-5126 or 609-275-1400. Purchase price is $129 in U.S. and Canada plus $10.40 shipping charge for VHS or DVD.