Oregon Investment Council takes pro-worker stance

SALEM — The Oregon Investment Council (OIC), which manages $44 billion in public employee retirement funds, voted March 31 to use tougher standards for corporate responsibility when exercising its voting rights as a corporate shareholder. 

The standards adopted by the OIC are the same standards recommended by the AFL-CIO and used by union-management (Taft-Hartley) trust funds for guiding their votes on shareholder resolutions and corporate directorships. And the first message those standards will send to corporate America may well be a “no” vote on three Safeway directors who led the effort to “Wal-Martize” pay and benefits for grocery workers in Southern California.

“We’ve been burned by so many bad corporate decisions, that it’s up to us to exercise the power of the purse to make change,” said State Treasurer Randall Edwards, who proposed the change. “Oregon now will be a louder voice on improving corporate governance.” 

The new standards, which Edwards called “very aggressive, proactive and pro-worker,” include limits on corporate compensation, controls on stock options, prohibitions on self-serving “related party transactions” by directors and the adoption of labor standards, and codes of conduct for foreign and domestic suppliers.

Application of those standards means that the Oregon Investment Council will vote its 566,000 shares of Safeway against the re-election of chief executive officer Steven Burd and two other board members who led that company’s disastrous attempt to slash pay and benefits at their stores in Southern California last year. 

“We’re going to exercise our proxies against Safeway,” Edwards told the Oregon AFL-CIO, and he pledged to join the effort of other state treasurers to campaign against the re-election of Burd and directors Robert MacDonnell and William Tauscher prior to the Safeway shareholder meeting on May 20.

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