How To Creatively Stop Funding Pensions For Retirees, Or Just Another Story About Corporate Greed

If you haven’t seen Harlan County, USA, a documentary movie about coal miners, unionism, the power of pissed-off women, and a sad tale of corporate malfeasance, then you need to go to Netflix or some other source and watch this amazing piece of work—the film won an Academy Award in 1977.

Sure, watching the struggles of hard-working rural-ish folks in southeast Kentucky in the early 1970s may not sound like well-spent time, but, trust me, it is. It is an eye-opening account of both the white and black in the human spirit, of human resistance, both individual and collective, to corporate greed and indifference.

What I saw on “All In” with Chris Hayes last night reminded me of Harlan County, USA. If you are one of those who think some corporations are, besides sources of employment for millions of Americans, a force in society with a tendency to want to run the world their own way, then the following story is for you (by the way: I saw United Mine Worker President Cecil Roberts, the guy who opens the segment below, give a speech a few years ago in California and it brought tears to my eyes):

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As the All In blog points out, such corporate antics are not new:

Such a move would not be unprecedented. When American Airlines’s parent company AMR filed for bankruptcy in 2012, Transport Workers Union president James Little claimed that the company was in part attempting “to get out of bankruptcy what [they] couldn’t get at the table,” and use the process to extract further concessions from unions.

And if they can’t get concessions, they use other, more creative, means.

In any case, when someone says that corporations are trying to “extract further concessions from unions,” it helps to keep in mind that what is really meant is that corporations are trying to extract concessions from workers. It’s just too damn easy for some folks, when they see or hear the word “union,” to think of a fat “union boss” asleep in a chair, when the real damage is done to the worker, in the case of “bankrupt” Patriot Coal, the worker in the coal mine.



  1. ansonburlingame

     /  May 31, 2013


    Here we go again with unions vs. corporations. I suspect it will be a short string, at least from me. You already know I believe your very slanted views, all pro-union, period, are just that, slanted and one-sided. But as Kabe always says, my own views have been contaminated with bad experiences with some unions, not all mind you, but some.

    But let’s just discuss your shot at bankruptcy, a legal means for individuals and groups of individuals to get out of paying debt. Is the concept of bankruptcy wrong?

    And you bet, bankruptcy is a legal means of avoiding paying pensions (among other things) in the future that were assumed by people (future debt), not just some vague entity called a corporation. Some PEOPLE decided to agree to pay more money than they could afford, in the future, in order to “get something” in the current time frame. Those people, corporate decision makers screwed up and ultimately had to restort to bankruptcy to avoid such once future debt that, over time became current debt.

    The same process applies to other people (individuals) that make similar bad decisions. They decide to buy cars, big screen TVs, bigger houses than they can afford, etc. and some ultimately wind up in bankruptcy.

    The whole idea of bankruptcy is to wipe the slate clean and allow PEOPLE, groups of such or individuals, to get a fresh start towards a better life. That is basically a pretty “liberal” concept, offering legal ways to get a fresh start and I frankly support it, legally and conceptually. By and large I see the results for bankruptcy courts as “fair and balanced” as well. No one gets off scot free and all must mutually “suffer” to some degree, including lenders that made bad choices loaning so much money or unions that achieved short term gains but wound up holding a bag of debt (pensions, HC, wages) in their hands, later on.



    • Anonymous

       /  June 1, 2013

      AB, I like to conduct my families finances as if it were a small corporation and that is to make sure I do not borrow more than my total wealth. My biggest assets are of course my home and Thrift Savings (401k).My biggest debt is also my house. I owe much less on the home than I have saved. It has worked very well so far. That being said, what if my employer has written checks that it cannot handle, so to speak. Who will pay for this? I would be able to sell my home in this event and downsize. I would suffer the consequences, not the company. It will not matter that I have a clean work record and years of loyalty and hard work. And where I work, management does have one damn nickle invested in the company. When is the last time a company that was forced into bankruptcy fired those responsible? When is the last time a corporation fired someone and DID NOT give them huge a severance pay for their incompetence? Now, an unprepared home owner who does this
      (bankruptcy) loses his home and does not get any severance, does he? They are thrown out on their ass. Bankruptcy wipes the slate clean for sure, but it only punishes the little guy, never those responsible at the higher levels. I think the housing bubble proved that.
      Corporate greed is hitting new levels as we speak. Just this week the managers at Starbucks have now demanded part of the tips that the servers earn! It is not enough to charge $ 5 dollars for a cup of coffee and pay low wages. They now want part of what a good employee makes as a result of going above and beyond in their duties. What the hell did the manager do to earn part of this? It is just plain greed and jealously of any employee that others would seem to like and appreciate.
      The pay of corporate leaders vs employees has been discussed here in the past. The gap has widened for many years now. But how many of these “hard working” folks have actually made their fortunes simply by sitting at a computer with a lawyer and figured out how to manipulate the finance laws to gain a questionable and immoral advantage? How many have done this without producing anything? Too many in my book!



  2. Jane Reaction

     /  May 31, 2013

    God you are dense Anson. You miss the heart of damned near every topic. Corporate bankruptcy is not fair to employees who worked in good faith for future pensions when the BK judges allow the bastards to dump their promises because of corporate greed!
    You love to throw in your bias and blame others. You will never learn.


  3. ansonburlingame

     /  May 31, 2013

    But it is of course just fine for BK judges to allow the bastards that borrowed to much money from a bank to dump their promises for individual greed, right. Talk about dense!!!

    I did not call anyone a bastard until you weighted in as well Gerald. But I am willing to lower the tone with you, for sure!!!



    • LisaF

       /  June 4, 2013

      Who has the power Anson? The individual who pays for their financial mistake by losing their home or the banks and corporations who have made our like bandits and used all the extra cash to purchase the best government money can buy ?


  4. LisaF

     /  June 4, 2013

    I can’t figure out what kind of future our elected “pro life” leaders foresee for aging Americans? No more pensions and a weakened Social Security (if it survives at all) leaves millions of Americans to lie in the street until death. I suppose they want the elderly to go back to living with their children and the childless can go live in shanty towns.

    I read the story of the obese union president several day ago. How is this news? The comments which accompanied the story horrified and saddened me. I looked up Mark Rosenthal and he seemed to be a reformer who ousted mob controlled leadership only to swayed by corruption and power himself. There is an election coming in June that has been quite ugly between he and his rival so this seemed like a suspicious hit piece by the New York Post. How is this news? Oh, how the union haters ate this story up. It is all over the net. Overpaid, lazy union workers. More divide and conquer. When will Americans wake up?

    Although it may backfire.

    And I have watched Harlan County USA. Great documentary.


    • Lisa,

      I first saw the Rosenthal photo on Morning Joe, which has a habit of promoting anti-unionism. And there’s no doubt that the photos were given to the Post by enemies of Rosenthal and there’s no doubt that all of this stuff will be used by enemies of unions. It’s just too bad that in some places, places like New York city, corrupt union leadership fuels the anti-union propaganda that has been so successful in turning folks against the one entity that can empower the average worker.

      Sad, sad, sad.



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