People Aren't Products: Fighting Lazard's Gouging Of The Elderly

Crossposted at Boztopia and Open Left

Over the last week, I've been documenting the struggle between workers and residents of the Atria assisted living facilities chain, and Bruce Wasserstein, CEO of the Lazard investment firm, who has reaped enormous profits from an affiliated fund's holdings in Atria, while the workers endure low pay and terrible conditions, the residents suffer neglect, and the shareholders continually lose value in their investment. If you've been reading thus far, you're probably asking yourself, "Okay, this is a terrible situation. What can I do about it?"

There are two levels from which to approach the problem. The first method is to draw the attention of the many pension and retirement funds that are dumping millions of dollars into the Lazard-affiliated fund that controls Atria. I noted previously that many state employee pension retirement funds are inexplicably handing money over by the bagful to this fund, even in the face of its terrible performance. But it's not just domestic funds that are making such a bizarre error. Yesterday Seeing The Forest's Dave Johnson noted that two prominent overseas pension funds also have huge investments in Lazard's Atria fund:

I am writing here to encourage PGGM and CDP to ask Lazard to clean up their act, and have Atria treat their elderly residents and their workers better. Ask them to support the International Labor Organization's core conventions, especially Freedom of Association: "The right of workers and employers to form and join organizations of their choice is an integral part of a free and open society. It is a basic civil liberty that serves as a building block for social and economic progress. Linked to this is the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining. Voice and representation are an important part of decent work." They work for YOU, you have responsible investment policies, and what Lazard is doing goes against these policies.

As Dave notes, both of these funds are prominent signatories to the United Nations' Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI) -- you can see quotes from PGGM on its joining the principles displayed prominently on the site's home page. No company, corporation, or any type of business entity ever wants to be painted with a negative brush, even if it's deserved, and they will go to great lengths to polish their image if their actions are found to tarnish it. So it's worthwhile to publicly ask why these funds are investing money in a vehicle that fails on every level--that siphons away shareholders' money while its largest holding puts its workers and residents into terrible situations.

The second thing you can do is to directly address the man most responsible for this situation--Bruce Wasserstein himself. The Campaign To Improve Assisted Living has teamed up with Brave New Films to document on video how badly Wasserstein is gouging seniors, and to send petitions directly to Bruce Wasserstein asking him to shape his act up and fly right. The video is at 4,042 views and climbing, and the petition is at 5,276 5,279 signatories and climbing--given the complexity and depressing nature of the subject, that's pretty goddamn good. It's a good reminder that people are fundamentally decent, and don't want to see our elders--our parents, relatives, and loved ones--be victimized in their golden years.

You can help. Sign the petition. Spread the word. Tell your family, friends, relatives, co-workers, and colleagues about the situation. Ask why so many pension funds are sinking money into this dog of an investment, and why Bruce Wasserstein feels justified in raking in huge bonuses for bad performance while workers and residents suffer.

People aren't products. Don't let them be treated as such.

This post was sponsored in part by The Campaign To Improve Assisted Living. Read my collected posts about the campaign, Lazard, and Atria here.