An unlikely alliance between labor union leaders and a representative of a major brokerage house has resulted in what organizers hope will be the first step in establishing a concerted investment strategy for union pension funds.
For about a year, a number of labor officials have been holding informal talks about pension fund investments, and last month, while in Maimi to attend meetings of the AFL-CIO's Executive Council, they quietly constituted themselves into an advisory committee that will begin to develop criteria for unions to follow in investing their pension monies.
The group was formed outside the structure of the AFL-CIO. However, Frank Martino, preisdent of the International Chemical Workers Union, one of the committee's founders, said "we've taken a lead here and put everyone else on notice. If they want to come aboard, great."
Various trade union leaders recently have expressed concern that billions of dollars in pension funds are invested in companies whose actions and policies are seen as inimicable to the interest of organized labor.
A number of local unions throughout the country already have instructed their money managers to follow criteria for what has become known as "socially responsible" investing. The standards vary from union to union, but generally managers are told to keep labor money out of companies that are blatantly antiunion or that operate "runaway shops," operations moved from one region to another to take advantage of lower taxes.
Using similar criteria, Sidney A. King, a Los Angeles vice preisdent of Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc., a major investment banking and brokerage firm, manages a pool consisting of "tens of millions of dollars" in pension funds belonging to three international unions: The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and the International Molders and Allied Workers Union.
The six-month-old Drexel Burnham program, "Union Funds for Organized Labor," provided the catalyst for the formation of the advisory committee, according to Eugene Glover, who was selected to be the group's chairman. Glover is secretary-treasurer of the Machinist's union.
Other labor organizations represented on the advisory committee in addition to the machinists, carpenters, molders and chemical workers union are the Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons International Association, and Building and Construction Trades Council with which 16 AFL-CIO unions are affiliated.
"Union pension funds are financing companies that are cutting their own throats, sending our jobs overseas," said Glover. He predicted organized labor will take a much more active role in deciding that pensions funds will be handled for the benefits of union members. "Usually GM doesn't invest in Ford," Glover said.
Glover said members of the committee are talking to other labor leaders in an effort to bring more unions into the fold, as well as going about the task of hammering ourt criteria for investing funds.
There is disagreement within the advisory committee on just what constitutes an antiunion company, explained Butsavage, executive vice president of the molder's union. Although there might be unaminity on how to classify a company such a J. P. Stevens, a long-time anathema to organized labor, there is some conflict as to whether companies such as IBM or Kodak, which are nounion but nonetheless regarded as having descent labor-management labor relations, are appropirate candidates for investment, he said.
The inspiration for labor's growing interest in pension funds came in 1978 with the publication of a book entitled "The North Will Rise Again," written by Jeremy Rifkin and Randy Barber pointed to the power of pension funds, which they called "the largest source of private capital in the world.
"At $500 billion and growing by 10 percent a year, pension funds already own between 20 and 25 percent of companies on the New York and American exchanges," the book said. Of that, about $200 billion is administered jointly by labor and management trustees, the authors calculated.
"The North Will Rise Again," decrying the movement of northern industries both abroad and to the largely nonunion Sun Belt states, sounded the alarm for many in organized labor.
Rifkin and Barber, sporting "PENSION POWER!" lapel pins, have consulted with labor union officials around the country, including members of the newly organized advisory committee when it was in the talking stages almost a year ago.
In the meantime unions and labor support groups have started paying much closer attention to how their pension funds are being used.
Last August, Coporate Data Exchange Inc., a New York-based nonprofit research group, issued a report showing, among other things, that 118 union pension funds held $12.6 billion worth of common stock in predominantly nonunion firms. CDE is assisting the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO with a study of the control of pension funds exercised by banks and insurance companies. In addition, Ruttenberg and Associates in Washington is preparing a report on pension fund development for the AFL-CIO Executive Council.
Nationwide, from Alaska to Hawaii, from Florida to California, trade unions are establishing "socially responsible" criteria by which their funds are to be invested. I. Philip Sitser, a New York labor lawyer who represents more than a dozen union pension funds, said that some of his clients -- among them auto workers and hospital employes -- without fanfare have started pulling money out of nonunion companies as well as firms that do business in South Africa.
The United Auto Workers settlement with Crysler Corp. provided for a labor-management advisory board set up to invest 10 percent of each year's net increase in pension money into such areas as low-income and middle-income housing, nursing homes and child care centers.
And a bill pending in the California legislature who require the state's two major public retirement systems (with a combined portfolio of about $18 million) to invest at least 15 percent of their funds in California residential mortgages.
Dr. Robert J. Schwartz, a New York vice president of Shearson Loeb Rhoades Inc. who has participated in various meetings of the advisory committee, sees the establishment of the group as part of a progression of events leading towards labor exerting more influence over is pension funds. A maverick stockbroker for the last decade who describes himself as a "humanist socialst," Schwartz has been managing "clean" investments for individuals and institutional investors, particularly church groups, whose concerns span a wide range of issues from nuclear power to affirmative action hiring practices to companies doing business in South Africa.
Drexel Burham's King has had a 45-year relationship with the labor movement and was active in setting up the advisory committee. He said he expects "a fabulous amount of money is going to rub off" on his firm because of his paticipation.
Kind said that he is not a member of the advisory committee, which is made up solely of labor representatives. He added that "the entire investment community in the United States . . . should sit up and take notice that objectives are being set up as to how pension funds should be handled."
Also providing advice to the advisory committee is Gerald M. Feder, a Washington attorney who specializes in the 1974 pension reform law -- the Employe Retirement Income Security Act (erisa). Feder said the committee's plans touch on aspects of the law dealing with usury responsibility, prudent investiments, prohibited transactions and antitrust matters.
Labor officials participating in the committee said they feel confident that any investment arising out of criteria they develop will meet the tests of prudence. "It's our opinion that there are enough companies in the Fortune 500 that have good relations with their unions and their employes that we can invest in," said Glover of the machinist's union.