David Carr looks at James O’Shea’s new book on Sam Zell’s Tribune Company fiasco and zooms in on O’Shea’s reporting on how Wall Street helped create it:
What Mr. O’Shea focused on was how the bankers — who he said should have known the deal would render the company insolvent — seemed to be too busy counting their fees to care. Here’s a note he found buried deep in court records from Jieun Choi, an analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Company, that demonstrated a breathtaking level of cynicism and self-dealing:
“There is wide speculation that [Tribune] might have so much debt that all of its assets aren’t gonna cover the debt in case of (knock-knock) you know what,” she wrote to a colleague, in a not very veiled reference to bankruptcy. “Well that’s what we are saying, too. But we’re doing this ‘cause it’s enough to cover our bank debt. So, lesson learned from this deal: our (here I mean JPM’s) business strategy for TRB but probably not only limited to TRB is ‘hit and run.’ ”
She then went on to explain just how far a bank will go to “suck $$$ out of the (dying or dead?) client’s pocket” in terms that are too graphic to be repeated here or most anywhere else.
That analyst no longer works for JPMorgan, naturally.
— Kevin Drum of Mother Jones looks at a proposed National Labor Relations Board move to shorten union elections and gives us some numbers on unions you don’t see much in the mainstream press.
Survey research a few years ago by Harvard’s Richard Freeman suggests that “if workers were provided the union representation they desired in 2005, then the unionization rate would be about 58%” — almost eight times higher than the actual private sector rate of 7.4%.
And then there’s Drum’s chart, which shows polling results since 1984 showing a dramatic increase in the number of respondents who would vote to join a union. Where in 1984, the ratio was roughly 65-30 against unions, it’s now something like 55-40 in favor of unions.
Despite that, unionization continues to plunge:
It’s true that in 2009 unions won 66% of all NLRB elections compared to 51% in 1997, but that’s 66% of 1,304 elections compared to 51% of 3,261 elections. Contra Kirsanow, organizing a new workplace has gotten so hard in recent years thanks to corporate-friendly NLRB rule changes and increasingly aggressive union avoidance campaigns, that unions simply don’t bother waging all that many recognition elections anymore. They know that most of them are hopeless. The result is that the net number of election wins has dropped nearly in half in just the last decade alone.
— In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling on the Wal-Mart sexual-discrimination case, author Nelson Lichtenstein writes an interesting op-ed for The New York Times on what he calls “Wal-Mart’s Authoritarian Culture”:
In other words, the patriarchy of old has been reconfigured into a more systematically authoritarian structure, one that deploys a communitarian ethos to sustain a high degree of corporate loyalty even as wages and working conditions are put under continual downward pressure — especially in recent years, as Wal-Mart’s same-store sales have declined. Workers of both sexes pay the price, but women, who constitute more than 70 percent of hourly employees, pay more.
There are tens of thousands of experienced Wal-Mart women who would like to be promoted to the first managerial rung, salaried assistant store manager. But Wal-Mart makes it impossible for many of them to take that post, because its ruthless management style structures the job itself as one that most women, and especially those with young children or a relative to care for, would find difficult to accept.
Why? Because, for all the change that has swept over the company, at the store level there is still a fair amount of the old communal sociability. Recognizing that workers steeped in that culture make poor candidates for assistant managers, who are the front lines in enforcing labor discipline, Wal-Mart insists that almost all workers promoted to the managerial ranks move to a new store, often hundreds of miles away.
For young men in a hurry, that’s an inconvenience; for middle-aged women caring for families, this corporate reassignment policy amounts to sex discrimination. True, Wal-Mart is hardly alone in demanding that rising managers sacrifice family life, but few companies make relocation such a fixed policy, and few have employment rolls even a third the size.