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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Legal, but not ethical

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Today's reigning king of corporate greed is Heinz CEO William Johnson, who stands to reap a staggering $212.7 million payout if he leaves the company when it is taken private by multibillionaire Warren Buffett ("Heinz deal under FBI, SEC fire for insider trading suspicions," Web, Feb. 20). I have always supported the capitalist, free-enterprise system, which enables individuals to parlay their skills into great deals of wealth. The Johnson package, however, like so many others in this era of unrestrained money-grabbing, goes beyond reason. It is legal, but not ethical or honorable.

In the "good old days," competent employees had the security of lifetime positions and fair rates of compensation. Those at the top echelons of the companies interacted with the rank-and-file and cared about them. Those at the highest levels in the companies earned dozens of times what their subordinates did.

Today, greed rules the day in most corporate boardrooms. The corporate officer deemed highly skilled commands hundreds of times the earnings of his subordinates, and when the individual leaves the company, he is often showered with more money than could be spent in multiple lifetimes. The leaders of corporations are increasingly isolated from rank-and-file workers in every respect, including in the community.

Individuals who fleece their companies do not deserve to be regarded as good corporate citizens. I do not know how they show their faces in public. A co-worker of mine appropriately noted that an individual who steals a loaf of bread to feed his family may go to jail, but there is no crime inherent in a corporate officer making off with millions of dollars even in instances in which he has presided over a company's decline. Even companies that have received federal bailouts are permitted to lavish extraordinary largesse on their leaders. Case in point is the CEO of the "new" General (Government) Motors, who garners compensation of $9 million per year.

In the years to come, government at all levels will be forced to scale back entitlement promises out of necessity. That action, combined with shameful feeding at the public and private troughs by rich corporate executives, is likely to sow the seeds of civil unrest. The revenge of the "have nots" against the "haves" may be coming.


Upper Saint Clair, Pa.

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