General Motors recently announced that it bought back preferred stock from the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust and the Canadian government. The deal closed in December of 2014 and supposedly will result in a reduction to GM's fourth quarter earnings to the tune of $800 million. GM had the option to redeem the shares at face value after December 31st of 2014. The timing of the deal brings into question the motivation behind the move and also leads us to reexamine a previous preferred share buyback that occurred in late 2013.
If the year 2014 had a main theme, it was, as in 2013, the unions' pursuit of legal advantage. The results were mixed. Unions scored victories at the National Labor Relations Board, but they tasted defeat in the courts, most notably in their effort to unionize private home care providers in Illinois and overturn a Wisconsin law reining in public-sector costs. In another bitter pill, the United Auto Workers last February lost a representation election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. As for dipping their hands in tills, national union leaders generally behaved themselves, but many local bosses, office employees and business agents did not.
Today I sent the following letter to Theodore Solso, Chairman of the GM Board:
As a shareholder, the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) asks General Motors (GM) to disclose all its contributions to charitable and nonprofit organizations by the company, the General Motors Foundation, or any other entity.
This request is prompted by the acceptance of various awards by CEO Mary Barra offered by charitable and nonprofit organizations at the same time some of the groups are recipients of large cash donations from GM.
The National Labor Relations Board lately appears to believe that if an aspect of labor law isn't broke, fix it anyway. Unions certainly are comfortable with that. On December 15, the NLRB published a final rule that would dramatically shorten the duration between a union's filing of a petition to represent workers and the holding of a vote. This 'ambush' or 'quickie' election rule, under the guise of promoting fairness and efficiency, would throw roadblocks in front of an employer seeking to respond to union organizer arguments. The board issued its preliminary rule last February after a Washington, D.C. federal court in May 2012 had struck down a similar mandate on procedural grounds. Last Monday, January 5, a coalition of trade groups filed suit to block the rule, set to take effect on April 14. As before, at stake is the right of workers to choose whether to belong to a union.
Sound the trumpets! Here comes the next best, all-new, electric wonder-car from General Motors. The dust had not even cleared from the rollout of the new and improved 2016 Chevy Volt when GM CEO Mary Barra announced the newest Tesla-killer from GM, the Chevy Bolt. Let's hope that the engineers working on the Bolt put more thought into the design of the vehicle than the GM executives put into naming the car.
President Obama traveled to Michigan this week to declare the auto bailout a success. Interestingly, he toured a Ford plant. The company did not participate in the bailout. GM is still trying to shake the Government Motors moniker, and that was certainly the reason for Obama's nonvisit.
But despite that legislatively unanimous award from three months ago, and a stock price that has flown high for most of the year, there are signs that the shine over the luxury electric automaker is beginning to dull.
Perhaps the most noteworthy skepticism has arisen from popular automotive Web site Jalopnik, which otherwise has been a fairly reliable (but not robotically so) cheerleader for Tesla. An end-of-year article written by blogger Damon Lavrinc recounts the automaker’s legacy of non-fulfillment and asks, “What will Tesla and Elon Musk over-promise next?”
With gasoline prices falling by at least 40 percent since June, consumers are feeling fairly chipper lately. For a different reason, so is the United Steelworkers. The Pittsburgh-based union, with 860,000 active members, is preparing for oil industry contract talks next month in light. And one of the topics sure to come up is the rise of cost-saving drilling technologies and the desire by the USW to share in some of the profit. Members earlier this month voted on whether to ratify proposals developed at the USW National Oil Bargaining conference in late October, though no word has been available as to the outcome. Vice President Tom Conway notes: "The oil industry continues to earn billions of dollars in profits and can well afford these proposals."
Here is a letter I sent today to C. Douglas McMillon, Walmart President and CEO:
We ask that Walmart end its financial support of Al Sharpton and his organization, the National Action Network (NAN).
The cold-blooded murder of two New York City police officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, follows weeks of Sharpton's vilification of law enforcement personnel.
As you know, Walmart has helped bankroll Sharpton for years. Most recently, the company was a sponsor of Sharpton's 60th birthday party in New York City, which reportedly was a fundraiser for NAN that raised a million dollars.