They were sticking with the Pig, then the Pig stuck it to them.
Thousands of former Piggly Wiggly employees across South Carolina were devastated when the grocery store chain folded five years ago.
For nearly 30 years, those folks at your neighborhood grocery store were working not only for the company but their future. They had an employee-owned stock ownership plan (ESOP) that gave them a piece of business — and, management said, more incentive to worker harder and make the stores more successful.
As Post and Courier reporter Tony Bartelme chronicled in his national award-winning story, “Stickin’ with the Pig,” the ESOP built its value by buying shares from the company owners at more than $800 a pop. For a while, retirees got what they were promised.
But by the time most of the grocery stores closed down, those shares were worth barely a quarter of that.
Even as the company's profits plummeted and its debt grew, some executives allegedly took $500,000 bonuses. And by the time the company's creditors walked away from the trough, the employee’s stock had been hogged up.
In the end, more than 4,000 employees in the stock ownership plan got zilch.
If the story sounds familiar, it should. It happens all too often these days.
The protected class gets the pork, and the rest get the rinds.
An unprotected class
A proposed settlement in the former Piggly Wiggly employees’ class-action lawsuit may end up netting them around $8 million.
That may sound pretty good but most will barely walk away with four figures. For some of them, that’s all they will see for a lifetime of work.
It won’t even pay for their funerals.
That’s become a trend — a company does poorly and everyone suffers except the people at the top.
Look at SCANA. For the past several years, executives with the South Carolina utility have raked in millions in performance bonuses while a nuclear power project financed by its customers has gone belly up.
Guess that’s why they are simply called “performance bonuses” — doesn’t matter if the performance is good or bad. Because it’s a fair question to ask what SCANA officials, or those at Piggly Wiggly, did to merit extra pay when their stewardship was less than praiseworthy.
Steven Brill, the author and founder of Court TV, recently wrote about this phenomenon in Time Magazine. In this country, there is a protected class and an unprotected class.
If you aren’t sure about your status, you’re in the latter.
When measured against inflation, middle-class wages have been stagnant for four decades while the top 1 percent has seen its income triple.
The last time the income gap was this wide was the 1920s.
You know, right before the Great Depression.
There are several reasons for the income gap in this country but a lot of it boils down to politics. For decades now, the 1 percent has suckered the other 99 into doing its bidding. Ask an accountant how that new tax law benefits the average working family, even one earning triple the national median income.
Some will see modest savings, others will pay more. But the 1 percent will save millions, even billions. When someone points out the disparity, however, they are accused of waging class warfare.
Because that’s what the rich and their media mouthpieces have taught people to say. If people voted with their pocketbooks, and not profiteering disguised as patriotism, things might change.
Those folks give you policies like right-to-work. Ask the former employees of the Pig what that means. They worked for years with the promise of a dignified retirement, and the vast majority of them won’t end up with enough cash to buy groceries for a year.
Remember, attorneys will take a third of that money. In our court system, the lawyers are protected.
Think about those Pig employees next time you pay your SCE&G bill, which still carries charges for a nuclear plant rotting in the South Carolina sun. And when the fallout from that debacle settles, see who walks away with their bank account intact.
That’s how it goes. Some people live high on the hog; others get stuck with the check.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.