A sharp-edged examination of why large American employers shifted from loyalty to their workers to loyalty focused primarily on stockholders.
Through deep reporting and anecdotal storytelling, former Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times writer and editor Wartzman (What Would Drucker Do Now?: Solutions to Today’s Toughest Challenges from the Father of Modern Management, 2011, etc.), a senior adviser at the Drucker Institute, delineates the often shameful evolution of policies by concentrating on four of the biggest corporations in the world: Coca-Cola, Kodak, General Motors, and General Electric. The contrast between relatively beneficial employee-employer relations during the 1950s and today’s lopsided relationship hangs over the lengthy narrative. The author pinpoints the rise and gradual decline of large labor unions within American industry as one of the major causes of employers cutting benefits for some workers and firing others. Wartzman wisely emphasizes how judges favoring corporate rights also played a significant role; he cites a 1998 federal appeals court ruling that, as an employee-oriented lawyer said, “decided that American industry no longer needed to keep its promises.” Many of those broken promises involved reducing or eliminating pension funds and subsidized health insurance, leaving both current and retired employees desperate to find alternatives, often without success. In the meantime, high-level corporate executives increased their own pay and benefits, usually without objections from shareholders. At the close of the book, Wartzman devotes space to his well-informed opinion that the social contract between employers and employees may never be reconstructed, due to consistent emphasis on maximizing profits, the globalization of production, advances in technology, and the demise of counterbalancing labor unions. Wartzman suggests government intervention would be needed to repair the imbalances, including policies that could revive labor union organizing, make remaining benefits portable from job to job, crack down on wage theft by employers, and more.
A lively history with relevance to every worker.