United we Fall!

May 12, 2005
United we fall! I am considerably irked by the actions of United Airlines in dumping their pension fund. Yes, I believe it is legal. Yes, I also think the judge had virtually no chance but to rule with the law. No, it is not ethical, and no, it is not right. But what does this have to do with process automation, you ask? Plenty, I say. We can now prepare to see a wave of "pensionbusting" and "unionbusting" by bankruptcy as companies on the edge decide to take the easy way out of unrelenting de...
United we fall! I am considerably irked by the actions of United Airlines in dumping their pension fund. Yes, I believe it is legal. Yes, I also think the judge had virtually no chance but to rule with the law. No, it is not ethical, and no, it is not right. But what does this have to do with process automation, you ask? Plenty, I say. We can now prepare to see a wave of "pensionbusting" and "unionbusting" by bankruptcy as companies on the edge decide to take the easy way out of unrelenting debt by shafting their longest term and most loyal employees. It won't just be the airlines. It will be oil companies (look for ChevronTexaco to line up real soon now...CT has one of the best old-fashioned pension plans ever...I know, my father-in-law was a Chevron retiree) and lots of other kinds of companies that will do this. And absent changes in the bankruptcy laws for corporations that mirror the recent changes in consumer bankruptcy law, they WILL do it...it is just too attractive not to. And since the average age of we process automation professionals is between 30 and 50, most of us have been vested in one sort of retirement plan or other that may come under attack. That puts us squarely in the sights of the busters. The problem with this is that the future for companies all over the world is the ability and the intellectual capital of their employees. We have only one hope in North America of surviving with an intact economy over the next generation, and that is to continuously innovate and update faster than the Chinese and the Indians, and the Brazilians and all the other national economies waking up and breathing down the backs of our necks. Companies have been mouthing the words for years. Calling us stakeholders. Telling us that we are now empowered. But the fact remains that we are on the balance sheet in the "Liability" column, not the "Asset" list. Perhaps United's executive committee and board of directors might want to donate their salaries and bonuses to the pension fund, before they turn it over to the hugely unfunded Pension Guarantee Fund. Perhaps United might be better off liquidated and the proceeds used to fund the pensions of the people who worked for them. Comments? --Walt Boyes

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