Union targets Verizon CEO pay

[Associated Press]

The AFL-CIO, a major shareholder in public companies, is targeting Verizon Communications Inc. this year for a shake-up of its board of directors as it accuses the company's chief executive of collecting exorbitant pay while turning in a poor performance.

The labor federation scored successes last year with agitation at Home Depot Inc. and Pfizer Inc., whose chief executives departed in a storm of investor anger over executive pay. AFL-CIO officials said yesterday they have chosen Verizon Chief Executive Ivan Seidenberg as their "poster boy" for 2007.

"I defy anybody to say this guy has earned the money," said Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO's secretary-treasurer.

Seidenberg received $109 million in compensation over the past five years - at the same time, Trumka said, that Verizon shareholders got a --0.5 percent return on their investment.

At Verizon's annual meeting on May 3, the federation will ask shareholders to vote off the board those directors who approved Seidenberg's compensation and will push for investors to have a formal say in executive pay and "golden parachute" severance packages at the company, Trumka said.

Executive pay is emerging as the No. 1 issue at this spring's annual meetings of public companies.

Trumka and Dan Pedrotty, director of the federation's investment office, were meeting with reporters to demonstrate the 2007 version of the AFL-CIO's Executive PayWatch Web site at http://www.paywatch.org, which includes a CEO compensation database.

"Verizon is among the most transparent companies regarding senior executive compensation, and in fact our CEO works without a severance agreement," company spokesman Peter Thonis said in response to the news. "Furthermore, approximately 89 percent of our CEO's compensation is performance-based, and therefore at risk. That's why estimates by others of compensation received typically turn out to be very wrong."

Seidenberg received compensation valued at $20.2 million last year, including $2.1 million in salary, $13.1 million worth of stock awards, and perks worth $734,400, according to a recent Verizon regulatory filing.

Verizon's stock rebounded strongly last year after a dismal performance in 2005. Shares of the second-largest U.S. telecommunications company rose 24 percent during 2006, or nearly 35 percent including the spinoff to shareholders of stock in Verizon's phone book and directory listings business.

Seidenberg is leading the company through a particularly ambitious - and some say risky - project. Verizon has committed to spend nearly $23 billion on a project to upgrade half of its copper telephone network with fiber-optic cables that can deliver cable TV and speedier Internet access.

Pension funds of the 54 labor unions that make up the AFL-CIO have a combined $400 billion in assets.

article originally published at http://www.baltimoresun.com/business/bal-bz.verizon06apr06,0,5288940.story.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey