Labor union presses Apple for post-Jobs plan

By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 23, 2011; 10:38 PM

The Laborers' International Union of North America put forward a modest proposal Wednesday during Apple's annual gathering of shareholders: The company should disclose more about its plan to replace its chief executive, Steve Jobs.

Although the union did not ask Apple to cough up names of potential successors - just that it outline a plan - the effort was defeated by fellow Apple investors, a union spokeswoman said.

The issue has gained urgency for some shareholders as Jobs, who has had bouts with cancer, took an extended medical leave last month. Apple shares, which have skyrocketed in the past few years, are one of the most widely held among big funds, retirement accounts and ordinary investors.

"We hope Steve Jobs runs this company forever, but is that realistic?" asked Jennifer O'Dell, assistant director of corporate affairs for the union, which represents the construction industry. It has $34 billion spread across 100 investment funds, each of which has Apple shares. "We know that the company is thinking about it, so they should just disclose it to shareholders."

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

Other companies that have recently been faced with similar proposals made by the union - such as Hewlett-Packard and Intel - agreed to disclose some details about their executive plans, O'Dell said.

The Apple shareholders' vote came as the company announced a March 2 event in California, hinting that it would unveil the iPad 2, one of the many groundbreaking products that Jobs has developed.

With Jobs away, Apple's financial fortunes keep rising. In January, the company reported that it had earned $6 billion in the last three months of 2010, nearly double compared with the same period in 2009. The shareholders meeting had no negative impact on its stock, which inched up by more than 1 percent Wednesday.

Dave Lutz, head of trading and strategy at Stifel Nicolaus in Baltimore, said Apple's major institutional investors don't appear as alarmed about Jobs's health as the labor union. He said Apple's succession plan seems clear. The company's chief operating officer, Tim Cook, routinely fills in when Jobs goes on leave.

The union filed its proposal in the fall, well before Apple announced last month that Jobs was taking a medical leave.

The measure was backed by financial firms such as ISS. "We felt it was warranted, given Apple's reticence and limited disclosures on the issue," said spokesman Gary Hewitt. "The proposal as written wouldn't have revealed sensitive business information."

O'Dell said that the union isn't giving up and that it will probably make a similar proposal in the future.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company