Employees of the world, unite!
(Fortune Magazine) -- There's a revolution going on, one that should give heart to everyone who actually works for a living. The vanguard marches toward us, arm in arm, united in the struggle for their share of the American dream. Here they come in gray twill and wingtips! They carry not guns but spreadsheets and notebook computers running Excel. They are warriors in the fields of Finance, and they labor not on farms or in factories but in the banks that hold our money and our loans. Godspeed to them! For they fight the good fight now for wage slaves everywhere!
I'm sure that at this point you'd like to know what I'm talking about. It's this: About 90% of the earnings achieved by the major banks are being apportioned among employees in the form of salaries, bonuses, and benefits. I read it in the New York Times, so it must be true. The newspaper also states that Citigroup (C, Fortune 500) "paid its employees so much in 2009 -- $24.9 billion -- that the company more than wiped out every penny of profit." The report was rather censorious about it. But let us ask ourselves, ladies and gentlemen who depend on our compensation more than on our investments, why? Is it not, in fact, a terrific thing?
Sure, it's easy to be outraged if you're a shareholder. But if you're an employee? Let's look at it piece by piece:
First, salaries. We need them. Much as shareholders like to see the value of their investments grow, we like to see our salaries do the same. Nobody gets all outraged if investors garner huge rewards on securities of companies that are otherwise doing a lousy job or, for that matter, if they make a killing killing enterprises by shorting them. All's fair. Don't we have the same rights as piddling little investors who own 0.00000000001% of outstanding shares?
Next, benefits. Likewise, and even more so. Our benefits, to a large extent, keep us tethered to our jobs. How many of us, when we are thinking of going off to Tahiti or Des Moines and taking it easy, have the coincident thought "What happens if my liver finally gives out after years of being a sales executive?" Beyond our health insurance, there's our workers' comp and our 401(k), or what remains of it. Which of us is against our company investing more, not less, in this particular basket? And should the interest of a dowager expecting a $450 payout from her holdings trump the need of our kid for a new bite plate? No way!
Finally, the sticky wicket: Bonuses. Here's where the rubber meets the pothole for a lot of people. That's because some of you have a distorted idea of what a bonus is. A bonus is not a bone. It is not a treat that you give the puppy after he finishes all his dog food. It is part of the compensation of each individual who has been hard-working and lucky enough to have been entered into the pool. The majority of the poor, humble Cratchits in the bonus pool in most corporations make sums between $10,000 and $25,000 -- did you know that? So, good for Banking! Way to take care of your people!
In short, what we have here, workers of the world, is a redistribution of wealth from the greedy, needy shareholders to the employees who give their hearts, lungs, and spleens to the company.
By all means, nobody who brings failure and ignominy on the company should get a bonus, or even remain employed. Out, overpaid executives! But those who simply worked hard day in and day out? Should they be punished?
So hail to you, brothers and sisters, even if you are bankers! And let us hope that the rest of the corporate world embraces socialism just the way you have!
Stanley Bing has recast his book "Executricks" for the paperback edition available everywhere; it is now titled "How to Relax Without Getting the Axe." For more Bing, unrelated to the Microsoft search engine, go to stanleybing.com.