Something to ponder this Black Friday: Wage disparity and income inequality

If you're planning on heading to major retailers on Black Friday -- or if you're among the throngs consigned to work those hours -- here's something to think about. 

Earlier this week, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel profiled the efforts of Capuchin friar who is trying to bring the issue of wage disparity to some of the richest people in the country: America's CEOs.

How? By submitting shareholder resolutions that cite companies' own reports pinning flat sales to low wages.

The friar in question, Fr. Michael Crosby, is the executive director of the Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota Coalition for Responsible Investment, a branch of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), which brings together "faith and values-driven organizations who view the management of their investments as a powerful catalyst for social change," according to its website.

Crosby told NCR about his own coalition's effort.

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It all began at this fall's meeting for the Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota Coalition for Responsible Investment, he said. 

"There had been so many articles about inequality. The pope had been talking about the structural basis of poverty. And then material came out of the Center for American Progress [CAP] that showed retail companies were saying their sales were being undermined by stagnant wages."

(In October, NCR interviewed Economic Policy Institute's Josh Bivens about how Wall Street views the dangers posed by economic inequality.)

"We said, 'Instead of just bemoaning it, let's do something about it,' " Crosby said.

So the coalition started a campaign to saturate key retail operators with shareholder resolutions. 

Most large, publicly held U.S. companies have an annual meeting with stockholders in the spring, Crosby said. But to get on the agenda for those meetings, you need to have a shareholder proposal submitted 120 days ahead.

"We're now in that 120-day period," he said. 

"We've already filed to meet deadlines with Kohls, with Verizon, [and] with Yum! Brands," an American fast food company that owns Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. 

In total, resolutions will be filed with 20 companies.

A boilerplate version of the resolution was written with help from the Center for American Progress, Crosby said. The resolutions were then tailored to fit each individual company. Generally, they argue "a component of flat sales is stagnant wages." Specifically, they point out what CEOs are making compared to what workers are making at a given company.

Once the resolutions are filed, a company has three choices, Crosby said. They can try to convince the filer to withdraw the resolution. They can go to the FEC and attempt to disallow the resolution, usually resulting in a legal battle. Or they can roll with the punches and see what happens at the annual meeting.

Crosby said he's never seen as many Catholic orders come together within the ICCR over one issue as he has for the campaign on wage disparity. 

Because "everything is stacked against doing these kinds of shareholder resolutions," he doesn't expect all of the resolutions to make it through -- probably "less than 50 percent," he said.

"But the point is to get the issue out there," he said. "To get the conversation going. To get people to realize that there's something wrong with this system."

[Vinnie Rotondaro is NCR national correspondent. His email address is vrotondaro@ncronline.org.]


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