For Immediate Release: Thursday, October 28
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“When private equity firms win, everyone else loses”
Workers, Advocates Urge Passage of Stop Wall Street Looting Act
Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Mark Pocan Join Town Hall, Build Momentum for Halting Private Equity Abuses of Workers, Communities
NATIONWIDE — At a town hall hosted by United for Respect and Americans for Financial Reform, workers and leaders across industries came out strongly in support of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s recently reintroduced Stop Wall Street Looting Act (SWSLA).
The town hall, which focused on the devastating impact of private equity firms on the quality and quantity of jobs across industries, featured video messages of support and encouragement from Sen. Warren and Rep. Mark Pocan. Retail workers from PetSmart and Toys ‘R’ Us were joined by labor union representatives from the mining and manufacturing industries and community activists fighting for housing rights.
Sarah Woodhams, who worked at Babies ‘R’ Us for 7 years, described the broken promises of private equity firms KKR and Bain Capital after they bankrupted Toys ‘R’ Us: “We were told that if we worked until the closing of the store, we would get our promised severance pay. So, I did just that. I worked without a single day off, I dealt with angry customers and other liquidation groups to make sure I got paid. However, as we all know, that didn’t happen. Wall Street execs, KKR and Bain, and the banks cashed in and we, the workers, were left with nothing.”
At the time of the cherished brand’s bankruptcy, Woodhams was recovering from a miscarriage. After almost losing her house following the abrupt loss of her income, she and other leaders with United for Respect helped successfully lead an effort to win a historic severance fund from the private equity firms that owned Toys ‘R’ Us.
Isabela Burrows, who currently works for PetSmart, owned by BC Partners, discussed the slow decline of the pet retailer under the private equity firm’s ownership: “When the pandemic started, BC Partners cut positions and slashed hours despite the soaring demand for pet products. As a result, short-staffing is a huge source of stress at my store to this day. Important tasks in the petcare department just aren’t getting done because there aren’t enough associates. Personally, I feel overwhelmed and exhausted because I’m required to do 3-4 jobs at a time.”
The impact of the dangerous working conditions described by Burrows, including lack of enforcement of mask mandates and social distancing and failure to fix air conditioning systems, were captured in a report from United for Respect called “Greed Unleashed.” The report, released in September, found a 100% increase in dog deaths, during or right after receiving care at PetSmart, since BC Partners’ acquisition in 2015. United for Respect’s research is part of a broader campaign to raise investor, government, and public awareness of deteriorating working conditions and animal treatment at the country’s largest pet retailer.
Sen. Warren and Rep. Pocan, who thanked United for Respect and Americans for Financial Reform for their early leadership on this issue, discussed the impacts of private equity’s destructive playbook on not only essential workers but also college students, nursing home residents, pension fund holders, and community residents whose affordable housing options have been completely swallowed up by private equity.
Warren discussed her groundbreaking legislation, the Stop Wall Street Looting Act, which would clean up the industry and “end misaligned incentives that create private equity’s ‘Heads, I win; tails, you lose’ model.”
Private equity firms have evaded serious federal oversight for years, exploiting loopholes to extract wealth from workers and communities. In 2019, United for Respect published a report about private equity’s destructive impact on the retail industry, finding that Wall Street’s stranglehold on the sector led to more than 1.3 million job losses over a decade. A recent report by Americans for Financial Reform found that private equity firms siphoned an estimated $5.3 billion from federal COVID-19 pandemic relief programs to enrich itself throughout the pandemic.
Burrows and Woodhams were also joined by Cecil Roberts, President of United Mine Workers of America, whose members at Warrior Met Coal, owned by Wall Street investment firms, went on strike this summer over pay and benefits cuts. Dan Mauer, Government Affairs Director of the Communications Workers of America, joined to discuss members’ fight against manufacturer Hufcor, owned by private equity firm OpenGate, to halt its plan to offshore 200 manufacturing jobs to Mexico. Alex Vazquez, Lead Organizer with CASA Montgomery, also joined to speak about community organizing efforts taking on private equity-owned Arbor Management Acquisition Company for causing an affordable housing crisis. Charles Khan from the Center for Popular Democracy, consisting of fifty 53 affiliates and partner grassroots organizations in 131 cities across 34 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC, moderated the conversation.
Workers vowed to keep the fight going to pass the Stop Wall Street Looting Act and encouraged viewers to contact their elected officials and urge them to support this critical piece of legislation. “Enough is enough, I don’t want anybody else to go through what I went through,” said Woodhams.
United for Respect (UFR) is a national non-profit organization. UFR is a multiracial movement of working people throughout the U.S. advancing a vision of an economy where our work is respected and our humanity recognized. UFR is not a labor union and does not intend or seek to represent retail employees over terms and conditions of employment or to bargain with retail employers. www.united4respect.org
Americans for Financial Reform is a nonpartisan and nonprofit coalition of more than 200 civil rights, consumer, labor, business, investor, faith-based, and civic and community groups. Formed in the wake of the 2008 crisis, we are working to lay the foundation for a strong, stable, and ethical financial system – one that serves the economy and the nation as a whole. www.ourfinancialsecurity.org/