ON THE RECORD

what is your union's interest in private equity?
Every day we read more and more about how private equity is buying up huge pieces of the economy, so we started doing a lot of thinking about what that means to workers and what the impact is of private equity buyouts. Is it going to be a good thing? A bad thing?

Private equity firms also are buying companies that our members are working for, [and] it made us even more interested, which is what led us to doing the research and putting out the “Behind the Buyouts” report.

Have you made any determinations as to the impact of private equity on your members?
What we've been most focused on is the incredible wealth and prosperity tied to private equity and that that has not increased opportunities for our members. Our focus is less on the past about whether or not a specific private equity deal led to layoffs or didn't lead to layoffs, but more focused on the future, which is: if they're taking hundreds of millions in fees and billions in profits out of these companies, how is it that workers can have a seat at the table and see that their lives are improving as a result of these deals?

Have SEIU workers made concessions to private equity buyers?
We have not directly had a problem where as a result of a purchase we can then say XYZ happened that was bad. We think it's a mistake to fall into the trap of, ‘did something bad happen?’ when what we really need to talk about is ‘how are you creating opportunities so something good happens?’

what is the seiu 's position on private equity?
The first is that the buyout industry should play by the same set of rules as everyone else, and the subset of that are the questions of transparency and conflicts of interests and taxes and all of those issues. The second is that workers should have a voice in the deals and benefit from their outcomes. And the third is that community stakeholders should have a voice in the deals and benefit from their outcomes.

So we don't have a position that private equity is automatically good or automatically bad, our position is that private equity is so important in shaping and driving the economy … it has a responsibility that's far greater than just generating fees for the partners.

So the SEIU feels workers should reap monetary benefit from the Buyouts?
It's not just monetary. It's whether you're getting health insurance if you don't have it; it's creating opportunities, part of which is directly monetary part of which is having the opportunity for better jobs.

In addition to your “Behind the Buyouts” study and website, your union is regularly sending out email blasts regarding certain deals. what is your strategy here?
regarding certain deals. What is your strategy here? We've laid out a series of concerns and a series of principles. As deals come up that are illustrative of those [concerns], we're going to publicize and express concern. Again: whether it's environmental issues, whether it's closing stores or warehouses – these are issues that right now are [discussed] in secret.

“Behind the Buyouts” cited some UK studies; are you coordinating efforts or consulting with unions in the UK as well?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that there's a group called Union Network International, which is a group based in Geneva that is a global union federation. We're a member of Union Network International which is one of the groups that has talked about private equity in Europe. Yes, we're talking to them, yes we exchange information.

what would be the ideal outcome of this campaign?
The ideal outcome would be that private equity companies adopt a set of principles that lead to creating greater opportunities for workers and community stakeholders and that they look at it as part of their broader responsibility… and that becomes part of the bottom line.