Not surprised…

Walmart Blacklisted By Major Pension Fund Over Poor Labor Practices

Walmart
First Posted: 1/5/12 01:57 PM ET Updated: 1/5/12 06:53 PM ET, The Huffington Post

A major pension fund and longtime investor in Walmart has blacklisted the retailing behemoth, citing poor labor practices and the company’s anti-union stance as the driving force behind its rejection.

Walmart typically shrugs off criticism of its labor practices as union-driven propaganda and insists that its employees are happy and well-managed, but investing experts say that when one of the largest pension funds in the world divests, the company would be wise to listen to the message. It’s the same message the American labor movement has been pushing for decades.

On Tuesday, the Netherlands’ biggest pension fund, Algemeen Burgerlijk Pensioenfonds, with more than $300 billion in assets, announced that it was blacklisting the largest retailer in the world for noncompliance with the United Nations’ Global Compact principles. The Global Compact presents a set of core values relating to human rights, labor standards, the environment and anti-corruption efforts. Sixteen other companies were blacklisted along with Walmart, nearly all of them excluded for producing chemical or nuclear weapons that violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

ABP said on Wednesday that the decision to pull its investment from Walmart was not hasty. The fund declined to say how much money is involved, but according to ABP records, it had invested some 95 million euros, worth $121 million today, in U.S. Walmart stores as of June 30, 2011. The fund first sent a letter to Walmart executives in 2008, a year after ABP formalized its responsible-investing policy. Four years later, after many meetings with employees and all levels of management, ABP concluded the retail giant was still falling short.

Back in 2007, as ABP began to comb through its investments with an eye toward corporate responsibility, the fund was struck by the staggering number of lawsuits and National Labor Relations Board complaints against Walmart, explained Anna Pot, a senior sustainability specialist involved in the decision.

For four years, the fund met repeatedly with Walmart executives, trying to use its shareholder’s influence to persuade the company to improve corporate practices, especially with regard to labor and the environment. There were some signs of improvement along the road: Last year’s ABP Responsible Investment Report noted that “the company has taken steps in the right direction,” pointing to the $100 million Walmart paid to settle court actions in November and December of 2009 alone. It also noted that, based on discussions with management, ABP felt that Walmart had changed its attitude toward unions.

But by January 2012, ABP decided that the company’s time was up.

“There has been a change, but in the end we had to conclude that it was not enough,” said Pot. “We felt that if the workers are not happy, then what does it mean for the company?”

A Walmart spokesperson declined to comment on the divestment, adding that the company never discusses investors’ decisions to buy or sell, regardless of the circumstances.

UNIONS PUSH

Meanwhile, leaders at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) — one of the key unions engaged in the decades-long battle to organize Walmart’s massive workforce — hailed ABP’s decision as a message to the company and its other shareholders: Treating workers badly is bad for business.

ABP’s decision also might suggest that one of the UFCW’s more recent strategies could be bearing fruit.

After decades of failing to unionize employees at the retail goliath, American labor shifted its strategy. If Walmart’s anti-union apparatus was too powerful for organizers to overcome, they would focus on shareholders and customers instead.

This past fall, a handful of Walmart workers and a union analyst showed up at Walmart’s annual investor meeting to offer an unusual presentation of their own: a union-authored report and testimony from employees designed to convince outside investors that the company’s much-criticized labor practices are diminishing its long-term value.

At the time, Walmart executives dismissed the group’s claims, reportedly calling the employees a “bunch of malcontents” and describing the presentation as an attention-seeking stunt by union organizers to “further their own political and financial agenda.”

But Pot, who attended that meeting, thought it was useful. Although it was not the only factor driving ABP’s decision to divest, it was among them. Also high on the list: a job description found on Walmart’s website last June, seeking a new director of labor relations whose listed duties included “support continued union free workplace.”

Pot stressed that divestment was an action of last resort and that ABP would be happy to reinvest with Walmart should the company show that it was meeting international labor standards. But, she added, referring to the job advertisement, “so long as we see lines like that, we know that is not yet the case.”

MORE SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE

In the past decade, socially responsible investing (sometimes called activist investing) has become increasingly common. In the U.S. in 2010, nearly one of every eight dollars under professional money management followed some strategy of socially responsible investing. Since 2005, the pool of assets engaged in socially responsible investing has grown by more than 34 percent while the broader universe of professionally managed money has been stagnant, according to a report from the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment. This shift has come in part, experts say, because research has shown that good labor practices actually improve a company’s performance rather than dragging it down.

According to research by Wharton finance professor Alex Edmans, companies that appear on Fortune magazine’s annual list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For in America” also earned returns at a rate more than double that of the overall market.

“The perception used to be that socially responsible investors were hippies,” Edmans said. “But they aren’t tree-huggers. They are active money managers with lots of money.”

Still, divesting from Walmart is hardly a widespread phenomenon. In 2006, the Government Pension Fund of Norway dumped more than $400 million worth of Walmart shares, also citing labor standards and union obstruction. But researchers at the UFCW could not name any major U.S. pension funds that had divested.

A spokesman for the New York State Common Retirement Fund said that in the fund’s 90-year history, it has only divested once. In 2009, it pulled some $86.2 million in investments from companies doing business in Iran and Sudan, citing terrorism and genocide, respectively.

“We have a fiduciary duty, and that is really the main guide for us,” said Eric Sumberg, a press secretary at the Office of the New York State Comptroller.

Most pension funds view divestment as the option of last resort, and a politically charged move. It also means relinquishing the opportunity to perhaps influence change at a company.

“It’s a choice: Do you actively engage with the company or do you pull out?” said Nien-hê Hsieh, an associate professor of legal studies and business ethics and of philosophy at the Wharton School. “At the end of the day, it’s not clear how much of divesting is about effecting change or taking a stand.”

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BoA Settles with DoJ

Bank Of America Countrywide Settlement: Bank To Pay $335 Million To Settle Discriminatory Lending Claims

Countrywide
By PALLAVI GOGOI and NEDRA PICKLER   12/21/11 05:06 PM ET   AP

Bank of America agreed to pay $335 million to resolve allegations that its Countrywide unit engaged in a widespread pattern of discrimination against qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers on home loans.

The settlement with the U.S. Justice Department was filed Wednesday with the Central District court of California and is subject to court approval. The DOJ says it’s the largest settlement in history over residential fair lending practices.

According to the DOJ’s complaint, Countrywide charged over 200,000 African-American and Hispanic borrowers higher fees and interest rates than non-Hispanic white borrowers with a similar credit profile. The complaint says that these borrowers were charged higher fees and rates because of their race or national origin rather than any other objective criteria.

“These institutions should make judgments based on applicants’ creditworthiness, not on the color of their skin,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “With today’s settlement, the federal government will ensure that the more than 200,000 African-American and Hispanic borrowers who were discriminated against by Countrywide will be entitled to compensation.”

Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America Corp. bought the nation’s largest subprime lender, Countrywide Financial Corp., in 2008.

Dan Frahm, a Bank of America spokesman, said in a statement that the bank does not practice lending based on race.

“We discontinued Countrywide products and practices that were not in keeping with our commitment and will continue to resolve and put behind us the remaining Countrywide issues,” Frahm said.

The United States’ complaint says that Countrywide was aware that the fees and interest rates that its loan officers were charging discriminated against African-American and Hispanic borrowers, but failed to impose meaningful limits or guidelines to stop it.

By steering borrowers into subprime loans from 2004 to 2007, the complaint alleges, Countrywide harmed those qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers. Subprime loans generally carried costlier terms, such as prepayment penalties and significantly higher adjustable interest rates that increased suddenly after two or three years, making the payments unaffordable and leaving the borrowers at a much higher risk of foreclosure.

“Countrywide’s actions contributed to the housing crisis, hurt entire communities, and denied families access to the American dream,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.

The settlement amount will be used to compensate victims of Countrywide’s discriminatory mortgage loans from 2004 through 2007, when Countrywide originated millions of residential mortgage loans as the nation’s largest single-family mortgage lenders.

AT&T Will Not Become AT&T&T

AT&T gives up on T-Mobile merger

By , Monday, December 19, 8:41 PM
AT&T on Monday ended its pursuit of T-Mobile, bowing to government opposition of the $39 billion deal that would have created the nation’s biggest mobile provider of phone and Internet service.

The companies agreed to end last-ditch negotiations to restructure their merger and win over leery antitrust officials. As a penalty, AT&T will hand to T-Mobile’s parent, Deutsche Telekom, $4 billion worth of cash and other assets.

With greater threats coming from competitor Verizon, AT&T vowed it would continue a decade-long push to bulk up its business. It continued to disagree with concerns by regulators that the deal would have hurt consumers and lead to less competition.

Verizon chief executive Randall Stephenson said regulators should “allow the free markets to work.”

“The mobile Internet is a dynamic industry that can be a critical driver in restoring American economic growth and job creation, but only if companies are allowed to react quickly to customer needs and market forces,” he said in a statement.

Nevertheless, the decision puts an end to anaudacious nine-month lobbying and legal assault by AT&T, the nation’s second largest wireless company, to become the wireless industry leader through its purchase of T-Mobile.

By combining the companies’ networks, AT&T had hoped to better feed America’s insatiable appetite for watching streaming movies, sending e-mails and surfing the Web over smartphones and tablets.

It spent tens of millions of dollars on lobbying and national ads touting its merger and its ability to create jobs.

But even from the beginning, antitrust officials at the Federal Communications Commission and Justice Department said the deal would be hard to approve.

“Consumers won today,” said Sharis A. Pozen, the acting head of antitrust at Justice. “We sued to protect consumers who rely on competition in this important industry. With the parties’ abandonment, we achieved that result.”

Regulators had argued that the merger would leave 80 percent of all cellphone contracts in the hands of two firms — AT&T and Verizon. And the government refuted claims that the deal would create jobs, citing the fact that the merger would be “horizontal,” or across similar lines of business.

“Companies that are planning highly concentrating horizontal mergers will have to think twice, no matter how much political clout they think they can bring to the table,” said Bert Foer, president of the American Antitrust Institute, a think tank on antitrust law.

Consumer groups that had criticized other mergers approved during the Obama administration — such as Comcast’s mega-media venture with NBC Universal and Ticketmaster’s acquisition of Live Nation — praised the unraveling of the deal.

Regulators “stood up to tremendous lobbying pressure as AT&T spent tens of millions of dollars trying to push this merger through,” said Harold Feld, legal director at public interest group Public Knowledge.

It has been a rare setback for AT&T’s storied lobbying and legal team, and leaves the company in a difficult competitive position. Its industry-leading rival, Verizon, stands to get even bigger through a recent, $3.6 billion purchase of wireless airwaves from cable firms Comcast, Time Warner and Bright House Networks.

That deal has also raised concerns by public-interest groups and antitrust officials who say a joint-marketing agreement between Verizon and the cable companies may reduce competition.

Deutsche Telekom has signaled its interest in ending operations in the United States and could look for another suitor. But analysts question whether regulators would approve another bid for T-Mobile, given its opposition to the AT&T merger.

“AT&T is in this for the long haul,” said Jeffrey Silva, an analyst with Medley Global Advisors. “Don’t be surprised if you see them going at this or another deal like this down the road.”

Corporate Attack!

2011: The Year Corporations Attacked Democracy

By  (about the author)opednews.com
For eighty years, Americans have feared robots, worrying they might one day rule the world.  In 2011 we realized our real enemies are not robots, but multinational corporations, who have declared war on democracy.

In 1936 evil robots made their first film appearance in Flash Gordon.  Since then they’ve haunted popular culture, because robots can be designed to perform human functions yet have no conscience — they are programmed to achieve their objectives no matter the consequences.  This nightmare vision reached an apogee in the 1999 film The Matrix.  The movie depicts a world where robots, the “sentinels,” run everything and   humans have become an energy source.   Robots maintain control by enveloping Americans in a simulated reality — we have no idea what’s happening to us.

In 2011 multinational corporations ran most of the US but the average American didn’t realize this because corporations controlled our reality.

Although the concept of a “corporation” is 400 years old, the modern US corporation evolved from an 1886 Supreme Court decision.  Until the end of World War II most Americans did not work for corporations.   Now the typical wage earner works in a corporate setting.

Over the past 50 years, corporate power grew.  In his 1961 farewell address, President Eisenhower warned, “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence” by the military-industrial complex.”  Ike should have alerted Americans to the threat of corporations, in general.

The sixties and seventies saw a new era of global trade and the advent of multinational corporations.  In 1981 Ronald Reagan became President and “Reaganomics” became the dominant ideology. At the forefront of this philosophy were three malignant notions: helping the rich get richer would inevitably help everyone else, “a rising tide lifts all boats;” markets were inherently self correcting and there was no need for government regulation; and the US did not need an economic strategy because of the “free” market.  The Reagan administration viewed unfettered corporations as a vital component of a free market and deliberately unleashed a pernicious threat to democracy.

Once Reagan came to power the number of Washington lobbyists grew from a few hundred to an estimated 40,000 — in 2009 Federal lobbyists expended $3.5 billion.  Multinational corporations sponsor most lobbyists either directly or indirectly through organizations such as the United States Chamber of Commerce.

Under Reagan, the Justice Department softened enforcement of the Sherman Antitrust Act and other statutes limiting the growth of corporations, in general, and monopolies in specific.  As a consequence, five giant corporations now control most of the US media industry — and manipulate the reality of average citizens.

Despite these changes, until recently most Americans were unaware of the threat posed by multinational corporations — unless their job had been shipped overseas or their cable provider dropped their favorite TV channel.  Then three things combined to wake up the 99 percent.

In September of 2008, the US walked to the edge of a profound financial crisis.  In response Congress authorized a $700 Billion bailout and funds went to financial giants such as AIG, Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Wells Fargo — the same corporations whose reckless policies had caused the crisis.   Average Americans asked, “What about me?  Where’s my bailout?”

In January of 2010, the Supreme Court decided the Citizens United case and strengthened the notion that corporations have “personhood” and, therefore, enjoy the same rights as ordinary individuals, including the right of free speech.  (For a compelling account of how the bizarre notion that corporations enjoy the same constitutional rights as human beings has evolved, see radio host Thom Hartmann’s book,  Unequal Protection.)  The Citizens United  decision allowed corporations to spend unlimited funds in political contests.  Members of the 99 percent bellowed, “Since when do corporations have the same rights that I have?”

In November of 2010, because of their new political clout, corporations were able to shift control of the House of Representatives to Republicans.  Since the GOP took over in January 2011, this has become the most corporation-friendly legislative body in American history.  Republicans have consistently thwarted efforts to have multinational corporations — and their executives — pay their fair share.  Republicans behavior has been so egregious that average Americans were outraged: “Why do corporations get special treatment when I can’t pay my bills?”  (Mother Jones reports that corporations are gearing up to spend billions more to buy the 2012 election.)

In The Matrix the hero, Neo, breaks out of his simulated reality and joins a band of human insurgents, who battle the evil robots to regain control of earth.  Occupy Wall Street  is an insurgent movement that strives to get average Americans to break out of their simulated reality and battle evil corporations.

In 2011 our worst fears were realized.  It’s not evil robots but instead multinational corporations that want to control the world and, in the process, destroy democracy.  Like humanoid robots, corporations have no conscience — they are programmed to  achieve their objectives no matter the consequences to humans or the planet.  Now it’s up to the insurgency to save democracy.

BREAKING: The Rich Are Getting Richer! #sarcasm

The New York Times


October 25, 2011
Top Earners Doubled Share of Nation’s Income, Study Finds
By 

WASHINGTON — The top 1 percent of earners more than doubled their share of the nation’s income over the last three decades, the Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday, in a new report likely to figure prominently in the escalating political fight over how to revive the economy, create jobs and lower the federal debt.

In addition, the report said, government policy has become less redistributive since the late 1970s, doing less to reduce the concentration of income.

“The equalizing effect of federal taxes was smaller” in 2007 than in 1979, as “the composition of federal revenues shifted away from progressive income taxes to less-progressive payroll taxes,” the budget office said.

Also, it said, federal benefit payments are doing less to even out the distribution of income, as a growing share of benefits, like Social Security, goes to older Americans, regardless of their income.

The report, requested several years ago, was issued as lawmakers tussle over how to reduce unemployment, a joint committee of Congress weighs changes in the tax code and protesters around the country rail against disparities in income between rich and poor.

In its report, the budget office found that from 1979 to 2007, average inflation-adjusted after-tax income grew by 275 percent for the 1 percent of the population with the highest income. For others in the top 20 percent of the population, average real after-tax household income grew by 65 percent.

By contrast, the budget office said, for the poorest fifth of the population, average real after-tax household income rose 18 percent.

And for the three-fifths of people in the middle of the income scale, the growth in such household income was just under 40 percent.

The findings, based on a rigorous analysis of data from the Internal Revenue Service and the Census Bureau, are generally consistent with studies by some private researchers and academic economists. But because they carry the imprimatur of the nonpartisan budget office, they are likely to have a major impact on the debate in Congress over the fairness of federal tax and spending policies.

Also cited as factors contributing to the rapid growth of income at the top were the structure of executive compensation; high salaries for some “superstars” in sports and the arts; the increasing size of the financial services industry; and the growing role of capital gains, which go disproportionately to higher-income households.

The report found that higher-income households got a larger share of the pie, while other households got smaller shares.

Specifically the report made these points:

¶ The share of after-tax household income for the top 1 percent of the population more than doubled, climbing to 17 percent in 2007 from nearly 8 percent in 1979.

¶ The most affluent fifth of the population received 53 percent of after-tax household income in 2007, up from 43 percent in 1979. In other words, the after-tax income of the most affluent fifth exceeded the income of the other four-fifths of the population.

¶ People in the lowest fifth of the population received about 5 percent of after-tax household income in 2007, down from 7 percent in 1979.

¶ People in the middle three-fifths of the population saw their shares of after-tax income decline by 2 to 3 percentage points from 1979 to 2007.

The study was requested by Senators Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the Finance Committee, and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, when he was the senior Republican on the panel.

Representative Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, said the report was “the latest evidence of the alarming rise in income inequality.”

House Republicans pushed back Tuesday against President Obama’s complaint that they were blocking bills to create jobs. Speaker John A. Boehner said he agreed with Mr. Obama’s new slogan, “we can’t wait,” and he said that 15 House-passed bills were “sitting over in the Senate, waiting for action.”

On Tuesday, the White House endorsed another bill, which is likely to be passed by the House this week with bipartisan support. The bill would repeal a requirement for federal, state and local government agencies to withhold 3 percent of certain payments to suppliers of goods and services and to deposit the money with the Internal Revenue Service.

This requirement was originally adopted as a tax-compliance measure, and the Congressional Budget Office said its repeal would reduce federal revenues by $11 billion over 10 years.

House Republicans would offset the cost with a bill that reduces federal spending on Medicaid under the 2010 health care law. The White House said it supported the bill, intended to fix an apparent error in the law, under which hundreds of thousands of middle-income early retirees can get Medicaid coverage meant for the poor.

The joint Congressional committee on deficit reduction is considering changes in a wide range of benefit programs.

Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, said Tuesday that he was hopeful but not entirely confident that the panel would succeed in reaching a bipartisan agreement to reduce federal deficits by $1.2 trillion over 10 years.

“Hopeful is not confident,” Mr. Hoyer said.

 

We’ll Just Hope This Is Actually Enforced…

9th Circuit: Corporations Can Be Sued For Human Rights Violations Abroad

9th Circuit Corporations
First Posted: 10/25/11 07:16 PM ET Updated: 10/26/11 09:28 AM ET, Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — Corporations can be held liable in U.S. courts for human rights violations committed abroad, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled on Wednesday. The 9th Circuit reached the same conclusion as two other appeals courts, the 7th and D.C. Circuits, which further isolates the 2nd Circuit’s contrary determination, slated for Supreme Court review this term.

The case, Sarei v. Rio Tinto, arises out of a lawsuit brought in 2000 alleging that Rio Tinto, a multinational mining company, is responsible for the deaths of about 15,000 residents on the island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. In 1988, Bougainville residents revolted against Rio Tinto, sabotaging its mine and citing the company’s displacement of villages, major pollution and systematic discrimination against native workers. At Rio Tinto’s urging, the Papua New Guinea government sent in its military and, with the use of Rio Tinto helicopters and vehicles, killed many people in an effort to put down the revolt. Soon thereafter, Papua New Guinea imposed a military blockade on Bougainville to secure the mine, and the country fell into a decade-long civil war.

Wednesday’s ruling by an 11-judge panel found that corporations can be sued for genocide and war crimes under the Alien Tort Statute. That law, passed by the first Congress in 1789, allows foreign plaintiffs to bring suit in federal courts for violations of “the law of nations.”

Conspicuously absent from the Alien Tort Statute, however, is any language defining who or what can be a defendant in such suits. The 9th Circuit held that corporations can be sued under the law, although its eight-judge majority splintered over the reason why. Five judges agreed that a court “should consider separately each violation of international law alleged and which actors may violate it,” while three others emphasized that “courts should first look to [domestic law] to see if the corporate defendant is within the ambit” of liability for the alleged wrongdoing. Three additional judges dissented, concluding that the Alien Tort Statute only covers international law violations that have “occurred on American soil,” and therefore they did not reach the question of corporate liability at all.

The differences of opinion both within the 9th Circuit’s majority and between the court’s majority and the dissenting judges further exacerbate the problem of warring interpretations of the Alien Tort Statute, with another court rejecting corporate liability altogether, a third court looking to domestic law to determine appropriate defendants, and a fourth giving flippant approval to foreign plaintiffs’ claims against corporations.

Mercifully, the Supreme Court will settle the matter by the end of June. Which side the Court will take mercy upon — the corporations or those they allegedly harmed — will be hotly anticipated until then.

Most Hated Companies in America

The 18 Most Hated Companies In America
Gus Lubin and Vivian Giang | Oct. 13, 2011, 12:13 PM | Business Insider
american airlines
You’re not the only person who hates Bank of AmericaAmerican Airlines and Time Warner.We’ve updated our list of the worst companies on the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which gives remarkably accurate ratings based on thousands of surveys. The most-hated list hasn’t changed much since June, because the companies rated since then are in the well-liked durable goods industries.

“Generally speaking, manufacturing companies have a much easier time to quality control their products,” ACSI’s David VanAmburg told us. “In terms of purchase and consumption, you’re going to get much higher ratings than an airline company where there’s a greater chance that something can go wrong.”

The worst companies include big banks, legacy airlines and utilities.

#18 Bank Of America

#18 Bank Of America

Image: www.flickr.com

Satisfaction rating: 68/100 

Bank of America announced recently they’ll begin charging $5 for debit accounts which has been met with harsh criticism from existing customers.Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill) even stood on the Senate floor advising customers to “get the heck out of that bank.”The bank is America’s largest mortgage servicer and the slowest to respond to clients, according to Treasury reports.

The bank is ranked 28 out of 30 — the second lowest rated — in American Banker‘s second annualsurvey of bank reputation. Not a good sign.

Rating provided by ACSI.

#17 Dish Network

#17 Dish Network

Satisfaction rating: 67/100 

Common complaints includeincorrect billing and bad customer service. One consumer complained that she was denied a refund after accidentally overpaying a bill.

In 2009, Dish Network paid nearly $6 million to settle allegations that the company practiced misleading consumer marketing and lacked full disclosure when dealing with costs and fees. The agreement was made between Dish Network and 46 attorneys general.

Dish’s rating has lost four points since last year.

Rating provided by ACSI.

#16 Cox Communications

#16 Cox Communications

Satisfaction rating: 67/100 

Common complaints include slow service and consumers waiting an extended period of time for service. One consumer waited over five hours for a visit from Cox.Also, complaints includeunexpected extra feesincluding up to $480 to cancel service

Cox has actually been touted as a success storycompared to other cable companies. That said, cable companies in general are liked less than satellite, according to ASCI.

Rating provided by ACSI.

 

#15 Pacific Gas and Electric

#15 Pacific Gas and Electric

Image: www.flickr.com

Satisfaction rating: 67/100 

Common complaints includeincreased rates and the smart meter — supposed to save consumers money — not working effectively. The device has also created a backlash as consumers express concern over the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the devices.

Also, PG&E has facedmultiple investigations for recklessness.

In June 2011, PG&E agreed to pay $26 million in fines for a gas explosion that fatally wounded a man and injured five others. It is currently the largest fine assigned by the California Public Utilities Commission. The company is still under investigation for a gas line explosion that killed eight people in September 2010.

PG&E admitted to the death of a man on Christmas Eve 2008 when the company failed to reply quickly enough to complaints of a possible gas leak.

PG&E’s customer satisfaction rating dropped 3 points from last year.

Rating provided by ACSI.

#14 JPMorgan Chase

#14 JPMorgan Chase

Image: www.flickr.com

Satisfaction rating: 67/100
 

Common complaints includeinterest rates as high as 11%, according to consumers. The giant bank has also been accused of charging absurdly high overdraft fees.

The company’s consumer rating has steadily decreased since 2007, as customers perceive the bank to be more impersonal with growth, according to ACSI.

Rating provided by ACSI.

#13 AT&T Mobility

#13 AT&T Mobility

Image: www.flickr.com

Satisfaction rating: 66/100 

Common complaints includedropped calls — especially in New York City, San Francisco, and other major metropolitan areas — andlimited coverage.

The company’s consumer satisfaction ratings dropped 3 points since last year.

Rating provided by ACSI.

#12 LA Department of Water & Power

#12 LA Department of Water & Power

The LA DWP building

Image: en.wikipedia.org

Satisfaction rating: 66/100 

Common complaints includebilling problems anddisputes over proposed charge hike within the next three years. Consumers claim the LADWP is intentionally issuing bills late in order to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in late fees.

Rating provided by ACSI.

#11 Long Island Power Authority

Satisfaction rating: 65/100 

Common complaints include billing glitches resulting in the company overchargingcustomers at least $230 million in the past 10 years.The company claims the overcharges resulted from a faulty formula they were using and have since begun returning the money to customers.

The Long Island Power Authority is currently ranked the lowest in the energy utilities sector.

Rating provided by ACSI.

#10 UnitedHealth

Satisfaction rating: 65/100
 

Common complaints includecoverage denials,mishandling claims andmiscommunication. In 2007, UnitedHealth paid $12 million to 37 states for allegations of mishandling claims and administrative practices. The National Insurance Commissioner requested that the healthcare company be monitored in their claim practices through 2010.

Rating provided by ACSI.

#9 Facebook

#9 Facebook

Image: Illustration: Ellis Hamburger

Satisfaction rating: 64/100 

A common complaint includes users’ privacy and personal information protectionSocial networkers worry about privacy and sometimes complain when Facebook introduces new features, like the news feed. Also, consumers are not happy with Facebook’s constant interface changes.

Rating provided by ACSI.

#8 American Airlines

#8 American Airlines

Image: www.flickr.com

Satisfaction rating: 63/100 

Common complaints includebaggage fees and service cutbacks, as with most airlines.

American Airlines’ satisfaction rating has not changed since the previous year.

Rating provided by ACSI.

#7 United Airlines

#7 United Airlines

Satisfaction rating: 61/100 

Common complaints includeflight delays and baggage fees. A recent unexplainable computer glitch resulted in the airline canceling 31 flights and delaying 105 more. Overweight bags could cost passengers $100-$200 a piece. Service cutbacks, as with most airlines, is another concern for consumers.

The merger between United Airlines and Continental might have influenced the bad score of the company in consumer satisfaction. According to ACSI, a big merger in service companies usually has a negative impact on customer service in the short-term because of organization issues. The company’s ratings has increased steadily since 2007.

In June 2011, United Airlines violated the DOT’s 3-Hour Rule after trapping passengers on the tarmac for nearly seven hours at Dallas International.

United Airlines has increased in consumer ratings by one point since the previous year.

Rating provided by ACSI.

#6 US Airways

#6 US Airways

Image: www.flickr.com

Satisfaction rating: 61/100 

Common complaints includelow-ratings for cabin-crew service, baggage fees and baggage handling, a lack of entertainment optionsand poor communicationregarding delays. The company is currently censured by the Department of Transportation for its lack of communication with travelers.

In June 2011, the airline carrier paid $45,000 in fines for failing to include the law-required applicable taxes and fees on the same page as a print advertisement on air fare.

US Airways has recently launched a new program to encourage on-time arrivals, fewer filed complaints and an improved overall performance. In May 2011, the company announced cash bonuses would be awarded to workers with the fewest bag mishandling complaints.

The airline’s rating declined by one point since last year.

Rating provided by ACSI.

#5 Charter Communications

#5 Charter Communications

Image: www.flickr.com

Satisfaction rating: 59/100 

Common complaints includeimproper billing practices— which led to a class action settlement in 2004 — and poor customer servicefollowing the closing of domestic call centers in 2006. The Better Business Bureau issued a warning to Charter in 2007 following numerous complaints. In 2009, the company filed for bankruptcy and was forced to cut costs and downsize heavily.

Rating provided by ACSI.

#4 Comcast

#4 Comcast

Image: www.flickr.com

Satisfaction rating: 59/100 

Complaints include poor communication of upgrade and billing changes, lost channels for customers who didn’t upgrade to digital box or digital-ready TV,long waiting times for technicians and price hikes.

ASCI lists Comcast as a cable company (59/100) and a telephone company (69/100). In both cases it scores among the worst.

Rating provided by ACSI.

#3 Time Warner Cable

#3 Time Warner Cable

Image: www.flickr.com

Satisfaction rating: 59/100 

Time Warner has been a public relations disaster for at least a decade. Blunders include usage capsfees increasing each year faster than inflation andfraudulent business acts and bad services. In June 2011, a lawsuit was filed against Time Warner for refusing to make closed captioning available on CNN’s online videos after being notified by disgrunted consumers. Recently it alsoaired pornography on children’s channels.

For a long time, cable companies in general lacked incentives to improve their customer satisfaction, as they enjoyed sole franchise agreements in many cities. With competition from satellite companies, they are being forced to address service issues — but they have a ways to go.

Time Warner has decreased two points since the previous year.

Rating provided by ACSI.

#2 Delta

#2 Delta

Satisfaction rating: 56/100 

Complaints include additional costs for food, beverages andbaggage fees. The airline collected more than $952 million in baggage fees from flyers in 2010, almost twice as much as any other airline carrier.

Since acquiring Northwest airlines in 2008, Delta’s consumer satisfaction score has plunged.

Rating provided by ACSI.

#1 Pepco

Satisfaction rating: 54/100 

Potomac Electric had among the worst ratings in various power reliability studies, according to The Washington Post. The average Pepco customer experienced 70 percent more outages than customers of other big city utilities that took part in one 2009 survey, and the lights stayed out more than twice as long. The unreliable services resulted in the adoption of the “Pepco bill,” in March 2011, requiring the state’s Public Service Commission to hold electric providers accountable for service quality standards

Pepco’s rating declined a shocking 16 points from last year.

Rating provided by ACSI.

Occupiers Clean Liberty Park, Continue to Occupy

 

Occupy Wall Street still occupying Wall Street

By Jamil Smith, Maddow Blog
  –
Fri Oct 14, 2011 9:33 AM EDT

 

Jamil Smith

When I walked into the Occupy Wall Street protest for the first time just after midnight, I expected to hear lots of chanting, perhaps a little music, and certainly the now famous “people’s mic.” Instead, the predominant sound was the swishing of brooms.

The occupiers of Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti (a.k.a Liberty) Park were sweeping in the rain, hoping to clean well enough to stave off a police-led retaking cleaning of the space. I saw one protester bending over to squeegee the pavement in the center of the park. Later, a guy in a Santa Claus outfit was mopping the stairs; a skinny man wearing a full Superman costume was appeared to be picking up trash. Cheers erupted when rain began to fall in sheets. One woman exclaimed that God was doing His best to help out with the clean-up.

The cheers were even louder this morning, almost seven hours later, when news broke thatthe park’s official cleaning had been called off. My friend Allison Kilkenny writes in the Nation:

Jamil Smith

Brookfield [Properties, the owner of Liberty Park], which had planned to schedule a cleaning of the property where protesters have been camped out these past weeks, cancelled its maintenance plans suddenly last night to the surprise of many.

Reportedly, Brookfield handed down the decision to the city late Thursday, though the announcement didn’t reach Liberty until Friday morning when two thousand activists erupted in cheers as they huddled at the center of the camp. I’m sure Brookfield and the Mayor will stick with the story that this decision was made late last night, but the presence of thousands of determined occupiers probably sealed the deal if there was any indecision left in the board room…

This was the first protest I’ve ever covered where the activists won – if only a battle, and not the war, and if only temporarily. And the victory is definitely temporary. Major problems have not been resolved and large questions remain: Will the protesters be able to bring their sleeping bags back into Liberty Park? Will they be able to sleep on the ground? Fourteen hours ago, Mayor Bloomberg declared protesters wouldn’t be able to return their gear to the park, and now the decree came down to postpone the cleaning entirely. Why the change of tune?

Excellent question. We’ll be looking forward to hearing what the mayor has to say today.

The Story No One is Covering

Behind the scenes of #OccupyWallStreet

The protests on Wall Street are growing larger, despite police using pepper spray and making arrests.
Danny Schechter Last Modified: 27 Sep 2011 11:42
Political activist Abbie Hoffman led protests against Wall Street back in the 1960s [GALLO/GETTY]

Back in the 1960s, a gang of Yippies, a politicised arm of the hippies led by the late Abbie Hoffman, wormed their way into the tour of the New York Stock Exchange. While up on the visitors’ gallery, looking down on the trading floors, they threw US legal tender – coins and bills – at the men below who, when they realised what it was, began diving for dollars.

That colourful assault on the money culture took place 40 years ago on August 24, 1967. CNN recently remembered the moment, noting: “Some of the brokers, clerks and stock runners below laughed and waved; others jeered angrily and shook their fists.”

The bills barely had time to land on the ground before guards began removing the group from the building, but news photos had been taken and the Stock Exchange “happening” quickly slid into iconic status.

Once outside, the activists formed a circle, holding hands and chanting “Free! Free!” At one point, Hoffman – an old friend of mine – stood in the centre of the circle and lit the edge of a $5 bill while grinning madly, but an NYSE runner grabbed it from him, stamped on it, and said: “You’re disgusting.”

“Hoffman stood in the centre of the circle and lit the edge of a $5 bill.

What disgusts some, inspires others, and that event is now firmly embedded in the legacy of the US left, which may have changed its character, but not its dislike of America’s Mecca of money and symbol of greed.

In the 1920s, the “Street” was bombed by anarchists, but a new non-violent breed today, holding on to the hatred of the wheeling and dealing that drives US capitalism – and perhaps global capitalism – have for the last week staged an encampment a few blocks north of the Exchange as a part of what they call #OccupyWallStreet.

The hashtag is a sign of their reliance on Twitter and other social media to organise a protest modelled after Tahrir Square (and perhaps Madrid’s Plaza Del Sol) where activists seized public space to launch a political movement. There is no central command, no orders from above. And you can watch the action online on a live stream.

This is not the usual approach to politics of an electoral kind with its traditional mobilisations and marches by mass organisations. It has attracted a group of wannabe revolutionaries, even as a right wing website called them a “menagerie” and others ridicule their youth, their hair, and their naiveté. It’s like a Wall Street Woodstock – so far without the music (but that might be coming) – as a number of celebrities have dropped by to show solidarity.

Had he lived, Abbie Hoffman would have been there to witness the takeover of nearby Zuccotti Park that has become the meeting ground of a growing bottom-up leaderless movement, drawn from several political traditions including libertarians, communists and environmentalists. Abbie now has 901,000 citations on Google.

Like the Egyptian movement they are emulating, there is no one political line or detailed set of demands, but it’s not clear if that matters.

The police have been accused of unnecessarily using mace and pepper spray against nonviolent protesters [GALLO/GETTY]

Democratic movement

Decisions are made by a “general assembly” in which everyone can have a say. To speak, all you have to do is shout “mic check,” and, in call and response style, the activists present repeat your words, as they have been doing with the key ideas being expressed by speakers, so everyone can hear them. Sound systems, amplifiers and Public Address loudspeakers are not permitted by the city’s officials.

I observed a spirit of good-natured tolerance in the multi-generational group that numbers between a few hundred and a few thousand. They had hoped for 20,000 but that has not occurred yet, although one New York newspaper reported that, after New York Police arrested 80 marchers, using pepper spray and mace, the size of the protest actually grew.

Activists fear the police are looking for a pretext to shut down this fledging experiment in democracy, as the Wall Street companies want to get rid of people committed to defiance and resistance. At the same time, many of the ordinary cops in blue have been friendly – to the chagrin of their officers in white shirts. Chaz Valenza noted, “Employees and owners of several businesses harboured marchers to save them from arrest. And, a number of sympathetic NYPD officers treated those arrested with respect and extraordinary leeway, some expressing support.”

“The police officer told me he was going to cuff me very loosely so it wouldn’t hurt,” said one woman arrested on Saturday. Waiting in the bus she found the plastic strap cuffs were so loose her hands were not bound and she could freely take one out to use her cell phone.

Valenza offered this “box score” on the protests’ tenth day: “OWS Protesters Arrested: 121 – 200 (?); Wall Street Banksters Arrested: 0; People Power Hours since Day 1 (NYC only): 349,000 (an estimate of the amount of time activists invested).”

Critical mass

Police have denied protesters the right to assemble, putting up steel pens to block protesters [GALLO/GETTY]

There is no doubt that Wall Street is a place millions of Americans love to hate, but protests take time to reach a critical mass – as they did in Egypt.

The event has triggered a sizable police presence perhaps because Wall Street, so close to “Ground Zero”, is a world financial centre. Ever since 9/11, the place had been militarised with an army of security forces and surveillance cameras.

Curiously, the protest is against Wall Street tactics such as “securitisation” in its trading, even as the area itself is securitised – with no protests allowed at the Stock Exchange, a private company patrolled by New York City police at taxpayer expense.

So much for freedom of speech and assembly, when you want to take on the most powerful plutocrats in the USA.

Yves Smith, who edits NakedCapitalism.com, a leading financial website wrote: “Welcome to the Police State”, noting, “I’m beginning to wonder whether the right to assemble is effectively dead in the US. No one who is a wage slave (which is the overwhelming majority of the population) can afford to have an arrest record, even a misdemeanor, in this age of short job tenures and rising use of background checks.”

The police like to put up steel pens in the streets to block congregations. They are literally turning Wall street into a walled off area, even as Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post headlined it “Fall Street”, commenting on the crashing markets.

This Great Wall of New York is nothing new. The first wall on Wall Street was built to keep Indians away. For many years, the area was taken over as a breeding ground by pigs, until a huge fire consumed the neighbourhood in 1832. What a nefarious history.

Freedom of the press is also at risk, as most top media outlets initially ignored, downplayed or scoffed at the protest. It took mass arrests for them to consider it newsworthy. As the website AmpedStatus.com noted, there has also been censorship:

“Twitter blocked #OccupyWallStreet from being featured as a top trending topic on their homepage.

– AmpedStatus.com

“On at least two occasions, Saturday September 17 and again on Thursday night, Twitter blocked #OccupyWallStreet from being featured as a top trending topic on their homepage. On both occasions,#OccupyWallStreet tweets were coming in more frequently than other top trending topics that they were featuring on their homepage. This is blatant political censorship on the part of a company that has recently received a $400 million investment from JP Morgan Chase.”

Despite the spotty and often sneering press coverage – there is no Al Jazeera here, as there was in Cairo with around the clock coverage – word of the protest has spread, and will continue to spread. Activists from around the country and the world are arriving at the action – originally called for by the Canadian magazine AdBusters.

These events radicalise participants, and spotlight Wall Street abuses just as they call attention to media complicity and police brutality.

Ten days on, the persistence of the Occupy Wall Street protest is a minor miracle in itself, surprising a cynical media and even activists who weren’t sure if they could pull off a sustained attack on financial power. Young people are showing how political they can be – in part, no doubt because so many are out of work and deeply in debt.

What will #OccupyWallStreet accomplish? Its existence is an accomplishment in itself. Writes Nathan Schneider onReader Supported News: “For many Americans, nonviolent direct actions like this occupation are the best hope for having a political voice, and they deserve to be taken seriously as such.”

As for the future, that remains to be seen.

Despite officials’ efforts to end it, the #OccupyWallStreet movement has gained momentum [GALLO/GETTY]

News Dissector and blogger Danny Schechter called for protests in his film Plunder: The Crime Of Our Time,exposing financial crimes on Wall Street. Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.