BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE: AUGUST 9, 1999 ISSUE

Readers Report

Retirees Could Get Shortchanged

In ''Building the best retirement plan'' (Cover Story, July 19), you forgot to delve into the conversion of defined-benefit plans to cash-balance plans. Take Motorola Inc.'s recent announcement--that all employees will have a choice as to which plan they want. This is eminently fair.

Then look at IBM--where only those within five years of their retirement eligibility are offered a choice between the ''old'' plan and the ''new'' plan. The result? A big potential reduction in benefits, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars for many employees and even more for higher-level employees. In addition, retiree medical coverage is all but eliminated under the ''new'' plan. What will these newly poor retirees do? They will come knocking on government's door for financial and medical assistance.

Bruce Broadley
West Nyack, N.Y.



The House of Labor Needs Some Cleaning

In ''All's not fair in labor wars'' (News: Analysis & Commentary, July 19), Aaron Bernstein suggests that unions win only half the elections in private companies because of anti-union tactics and lack of an opportunity to join one.

Could it be that workers are instead fed up with the violence, intimidation, forced union dues that disappear into the air, and simple counterproductivity that in the final analysis threaten their livelihoods?

James R. Reynolds
President
Cast Tools Inc.
Racine, Wis.


While I believe that nonunion employees are worse off than union members, the house of labor is still much in need of improvement. Continuing labor scandals, such as those at New York City's AFSCME DC-37 [American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees] and my local, SEIU 32B-32J [Service Employees International Union], are a union buster's dream come true. Laborcrats, with their penthouses, junkets, executive board secrets, and lack of financial accountability, make us easy targets.

Many companies have captive-audience meetings of their employees. The union-avoidance specialists that they hire know how to spin this fact to their advantage. What is ironic is that nonunion employees can openly discuss union corruption and are able to learn a great deal, real or imagined, at such meetings.

Indictments, convictions, and negative coverage of labor in the media is never officially discussed with members of the rank and file. Union meetings, publications, and Web sites usually ignore corruption or give sanitized versions of events. These actions can only alienate loyal union members, all potential organizers.

The lack of rank-and-file democracy is the real organizing problem. Unions must allow members to debate and vote on policy issues. An educated, informed, and involved union member is the best organizer.

Paul Pamias
Shop Steward
Local 32B-32J, SEIU
New York



You Never Know When You'll Need Long-Term Care

My clients' biggest objection to long-term-care (LTC) insurance is that ''they won't need it''--even though the odds are about 1 in 3 that an American will (''Someone to watch over you,'' Business Week Investor, July 19).

There is now at least one company that offers a single-premium life insurance with a LTC rider giving a reserve pool twice the death benefit in case the person needs LTC. As the money is used, the death benefit decreases. If none is ever withdrawn, there is still all the insurance, which will go income-tax-free to the beneficiaries.

Many people believe that Medicare will take care of their LTC needs. In fact, only about 8% of those costs are borne by Medicare: Most financial support comes from the individual or family.

I suggest to all my clients that they buy some form of LTC. I don't want to be sued by someone who at age 49 had a stroke or car accident and is without coverage because they thought that they should delay buying a policy until age 55.

Robert Berend
Registered investment adviser
Kensington, Calif.



Does Silicon Valley ''Look Like America''?

''Jesse's new target: Silicon Valley'' (Social Issues, July 12) prompts the following: Saying Silicon Valley's workforce is diverse because 31% of it is Asian does not by itself meet the challenge of the first Clinton Administration for establishing diversity (a workforce that ''looks like America'').

The arrogance inherent in attributing a bootstrapping mindset to an industry given credit for contributing one-third of the U.S. economic growth since 1995 and for which ''big government, regulation, and affirmative action are disdained'' should be tempered by the reflection that ''big government'' has made possible the establishment of such businesses in America. An appreciable sacrifice has been made by people of color in defense of this country to preserve that privilege.

What continues to be lost is that the success of foreigners in this country is not only due to the environment made available by ''big government'' but also by the strong basic education obtained in their own countries. Approval of temporary visas predicated on corporate contribution of funds to help provide U.S.-born students of color a comparable education to meet diversity targets should be encouraged.

J.V. Martinez
Bethesda, Md.



Don't Blame Native Americans for This Blunder

As manager of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribal buffalo herd, I notice that you named Native Americans as the recipients, as well as the responsible party, for requesting a government subsidy for buffalo meat (''And now buffalo subsidies,'' Up Front, May 10). Native Americans were neither responsible for the subsidy nor were they the recipients. We opposed the subsidy and wrote several letters to the Agriculture Dept. in our attempt to stop it. We are producing a high-quality, natural food product that is low in fat and cholesterol to address the high rates of heart disease and diabetes rampant on most Indian reservations. It's outrageous that the Agriculture Dept. subsidizes the low-quality fatty trim from buffalo raised in the feedlots and then adds insult to injury by palming it off on Indian people through supplemental food programs.

This misinformation is harmful to our efforts at producing the highest quality red meat on the market and inaccurately portrays us as participants in this government blunder.

Fred Dubray
Gettysburg, S.D.



Buffett: Long Live the Happy CEO

If happiness on the job is an indicator of good health, Mr. Buffett should outshine Methuselah (''The Warren Buffett you don't know,'' Cover Story, July 5). Who else tap-dances to work?

Beverly A. Crandall
Oakton, Va.



The ''Innovations'' item about microwaving metals (Developments to Watch, July 26)

The ''Innovations'' item about microwaving metals (Developments to Watch, July 26) was misattributed. The research is under way at Pennsylvania State University.



''Why it's not a blockbuster IPO'' (News: Analysis & Commentary, Aug. 2)

In ''Why it's not a blockbuster IPO'' (News: Analysis & Commentary, Aug. 2), the estimated valuation of $2.8 billion to $3.2 billion for Blockbuster Inc. represented equity value only. Total valuation, including debt, is $4.4 billion to $4.8 billion, vs. the $5 billion to $6 billion Viacom Inc. had originally sought. Also, Viacom's $8.4 billion acquisition of Blockbuster included some smaller assets that are not included in the Blockbuster IPO.





''Paying for pills won't pay for itself'' (News: Analysis & Commentary, July 19)

''Paying for pills won't pay for itself'' (News: Analysis & Commentary, July 19) should have said that the suggested premium price for drug coverage in President Clinton's Medicare proposal would start at $24 per month, not per year.





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LETTERS:
Retirees Could Get Shortchanged

The House of Labor Needs Some Cleaning

You Never Know When You'll Need Long-Term Care

Does Silicon Valley ''Look Like America''?

Don't Blame Native Americans for This Blunder

Buffett: Long Live the Happy CEO

CORRECTIONS & CLARIFICATIONS:
The ''Innovations'' item about microwaving metals (Developments to Watch, July 26)

''Why it's not a blockbuster IPO'' (News: Analysis & Commentary, Aug. 2)

''Paying for pills won't pay for itself'' (News: Analysis & Commentary, July 19)

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