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The Rise of the Working-Class Shareholder: Labor’s Last Best Weapon
March 12, 2019•1:00 pm – 2:00 pm
When Steven Burd, CEO of the supermarket chain Safeway, cut wages and benefits, starting a five-month strike by 59,000 unionized workers, he was confident he would win. But where traditional labor action failed, a novel approach was more successful. With the aid of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, a $300 billion pension fund, workers led a shareholder revolt that unseated three of Burd’s boardroom allies.
In The Rise of the Working-Class Shareholder: Labor’s Last Best Weapon, David Webber uses cases such as Safeway’s to shine a light on labor’s most potent remaining weapon: its multi-trillion dollar pension funds. Outmaneuvered at the bargaining table and under constant assault in Washington, state houses, and the courts, worker organizations are beginning to exercise muscle through markets. Shareholder activism has been used to divest from anti-labor companies, gun makers, and tobacco; diversify corporate boards; support Occupy Wall Street; force global warming onto the corporate agenda; create jobs; and challenge outlandish CEO pay. Webber argues that workers have found in labor’s capital a potent strategy against their exploiters. He explains the tactic’s surmountable difficulties even as he cautions that corporate interests are already working to deny labor’s access to this powerful and underused tool.
David Webber is a professor of Law at Boston University, and also co-teaches the Pensions and Capital Stewardship course for the Harvard Trade Union program at Harvard Law School. He is the winner of Boston University School of Law’s 2017 Michael Melton Award for Teaching Excellence. Webber is a graduate of Columbia and NYU Law School, where he was an editor for the law review. His areas of interest include Civil Procedure, Corporate, Business & Transactional Law, Mergers & Acquisitions, Securities, Shareholder Activism & Litigation.
In addition to his new book, Webber has published numerous scholarly articles and presented his research at the Harvard Stanford Yale Junior Faculty Forum, the Conference on Empirical Legal Studies, and the American Law and Economics Association conference, among others.