Workers' pension funds are being used to create overseas jobs and to finance nonunion companies without even paying a decent rate of return on the money, according to a new AFL-CIO study of pension investment policies.
"Labor loses twice from current pension fund management," said Jacob Sheinkman, secretary-treasurer of the Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers, who headed the study. "In the short run, benefits may be threatened by an inadequate rate of return, and in the long run our own money works to take away our jobs and diminish our overall well-being," he said.
The study by the labor federation's industrial union department recommended that unions seek a larger voice in pension fund management through negotiations.
But IUD President Howard D. Samuel noted that "many unions in listing their priority demans might not want to put this right at the top."
Study pointed out that a recent evaluation found that the average fund returned 4.3 percent on investment a year over the last 10 years. "That return was significantly less than that of the stock market as a whole (Standard & Poor's 500-stock index averaged 5.9 percent) and well below the rate of inflation," the study said.
"In many instances, participants would have been better off if their funds had been invested in passbook savings accounts," according to the study. It also said that the poor rate of return warrants a stronger union role in the process.
The IUD report was based on a study of benefit fund investment practices of 10 large industrial companies and 192 collectively bargained or public employe benefit plans.
Besides trying for an expanded role in pension fund management, the committee also recommended that unions may want to examine the role of pension fund managers with an eye toward possible conflicts of interest. "The study revealed that fund managers frequently had significant ties to the sponsoring companies aside from fund management itself," the report said.
Although the report took notice of the potential social impact of a different standard for investing billions of dollars of union pension funds, it didn't suggest investing without regard for return on investment.
"Yet favoring companies that create or foster domestic employment would seem prudent at least when the investment is as good as others according to more tradtional investment criteria," the report said.