Editorial: Overcompensated Coal Executives Have Broken Trust With Employees

first_imgEditorial: Overcompensated Coal Executives Have Broken Trust With Employees FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享From the Casper (Wyo.) Star Tribune:Once, it was true that if you worked hard enough for a long enough time, your dedication would be rewarded. You earned your salary, and your benefits were there when you needed them.That’s no longer the case – at least not at America’s biggest coal companies, several of which have significant operations here in Wyoming.Almost 500 people who toiled for years at mines owned by Arch Coal and Peabody Energy were recently laid off. It would be easy to blame this on the dwindling demand for coal and other market factors.But that’s not the full story. While Wyoming coal country trembled, fearful of the industry’s future and its own, these producers’ CEOs and other executives profited richly.Alpha Natural Resources, Arch and Peabody paid their management teams $186 million in stock awards, incentives and other forms of compensation between 2012 and 2014. All three companies have since filed for bankruptcy protection – and their struggles are tied to the decisions of the executives, who in 2011 rushed to acquire mines to capitalize on strong demand for metallurgical coal. Critics say this was foolish, that these expensive executives should have known they were walking into a metallurgical market near its height.Soon enough, though, it appeared that they did know what would happen: “The behavior of these executives seems to me pretty outrageous. They could see the handwriting on the wall,” Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C., told the Star-Tribune. “The numbers are there. They started paying themselves out way back in 2012 or early 2013 when the numbers were turning.”And those payments appear to have contributed to the severity of layoffs. For example, Alpha wants to slash retiree benefits for about 4,580 nonunion miners and their spouses. The would save roughly $3 million annually, or about 14 percent of the $20.8 million Alpha paid its management in 2014.Not as well-insulated were the Wyomingites who worked at the mines. Hundreds of households that depended on these once-reliable jobs are looking desperately for help and rethinking their futures. But the effects of the companies’ actions don’t stop at these miners or their communities. They will ripple across Wyoming, straining the resources of the state, its municipalities and its charities.Wyoming is in the process of diversifying its economy, and part of that should include looking for companies that prioritize all hardworking employees, not just the executives.Employment does have to adapt to some degree to the economic climate. As demand for coal dwindles, it makes sense that employment at mines would, too. But none of this should happen while management benefits so richly.These executives should have demonstrated good corporate citizenship by placing the needs of their hardworking employees ahead of their own desire for financial gain.But because they didn’t, Wyomingites are working to make sure these families have enough to eat and safe places to live. After that, the state’s network of resources, such as community colleges, are left to find ways to offer job-training opportunities, so the miners can redirect or reinvent their careers.The companies’ decisions have also served to break the trust miners once enjoyed with their employers. When companies did well, everyone prospered. Employees believed they had built a solid foundation of trust with their employers. That’s why it was all the more shocking when that foundation crumbled.A government watchdog agency and a group of former Alpha executives agrees. The U.S. Trustee, a division of the Justice Department, filed an objection earlier this year to Alpha’s plan to reward executives while recording steep losses and seeking to cut retiree benefits. Meanwhile, former Alpha CEO Michael Quillen, who is protesting the proposal with a group of other former executives, told the Star-Tribune the plan does not represent “the values the company was built on.”It also doesn’t represent the values the American dream was built on. As Wyoming continues to diversify its economy, it should look to welcome companies who know that success is built on the work of many people — not just those at the top.Full editorial: Editorial board: Coal payouts turn American dream upside downlast_img

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