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US Bank in Hot Water After Telling Clients to Pull Out of Unionized Firms
Published on Thursday, November 21, 2002 by the Guardian/UK
US Bank in Hot Water After Telling Clients to Pull Out of Unionized Firms
by Charlotte Denny

One of America's leading investment banks, Morgan Stanley, has outraged US unions by telling clients to pull their money out of heavily unionized industries.

"Look for the union label - and run the other way," the analysts say in a research note circulated to north American clients last Thursday.

Describing pension plans as "toxic" for shareholders, the analysts argue that union firms are more likely to provide retirement and healthcare benefits that could eat into corporate profits.

"Rigidity in labor costs, processes and pension requirements, while perhaps beneficial to employees, may prove toxic to shareholders," the note says.

Union leaders reacted furiously, accusing Morgan Stanley of giving irresponsible advice to investors.

In a letter to the bank, John Sweeney, the president of the AFL/CIO labor federation, said Morgan Stanley appeared to be "attacking the fundamental structures of fairness in our economy".

Pointing to the collapse of anti-union companies like Enron, WorldCom and Tyco, once the darlings of Wall Street, Mr Sweeney said analysts had failed to tell investors to sell these companies until it was too late to salvage anything from the "tech wreck".

"It is hard to resist the conclusion that the same biases about what constitutes successful employee relations underlie both your analysts' enthusiasm for Enron, WorldCom and Tyco, and their hostility to union workers and their employers."

In a separate note sent on Monday, the report's authors did an apparent u-turn, saying they were not anti-union, and that while heavily unionized industries have "meaningfully underperformed the market, we are explicitly not in a position to cite unionization per se as a cause of this performance".

Morgan Stanley declined to comment: "We have heard from Mr Sweeney and we look forward to talking to him to address his concerns," a spokeswoman said.

Duncan Green from the lobby group Just Pensions, which puts pressure on the City to invest responsibly, said the bank was advising investors to contravene international labor laws.

"If these analysts lose their jobs as a result of their half-baked advice, I hope they don't go running to the union to defend them," he said.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002


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