On a flight last week, I was catching up on my reading. In the August 7, 2015 edition of the Birmingham Business Journal, there was a list of the highest paid public company executives (ranked by compensation in 2014). Four of the five top 25 were from Walter Energy:
#5 – Walter J. Scheller (age 54) – Total Compensation: $6,292,406 Salary – $820,000
#17 – William Harvey (age 57) – Total Compensation: $2,887,142 Salary – $489,506
#20 – Earl Doppelt (age 61) – Total Compensation: $2,512,237 Salary – $451,440
#24 – Michael Madden (age 63) – Total Compensation: $2,300,906 Salary – $397,828
That’s a total compensation package of just under $14,000,000. Why? What justifies this compensation? Walter Energy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in July, 2015 with $5 billion in debts. YES, $5 BILLION!!
Walter Energy also laid off 194 employees at the end of July and warned of hundreds more to come – read here.
So, these executives at Walter Energy earn compensation of almost $14 Million for incurring $5 billion in debt and laying off employees. They were well worth the pay. I realize the coal industry is enduring hard times, but shouldn’t the compensation packages reflect the company’s performance? Not when the company’s attitude toward its injured workers reflects this narcissistic attitude.
Recently, an individual employed our firm as a result of injuries he sustained in the Jim Walter Mine. A large rock fell on top of him and caused him to have surgery on his shoulder. He came into my office because the doctor released him to return to work, but when he came into my office, he could barely move his arm, and he was to the point of tears. Now, he’s either the greatest actor ever and belongs in Hollywood, or it’s just sad that he cannot get the company to work with him and help him get back to work. The man is being paid approximately $700/week from workers compensation while he is off work, but he earns over $1700/week. Now, he’s not receiving anything because the doctor says he can return to work.
Wouldn’t any reasonable person think that he would want to go back to work as soon as he could? Wouldn’t the company want him to be totally healthy before he gets back in the mines? Not Walter Energy. They won’t cooperate at all. They are basically telling him to file a lawsuit. All he wants is appropriate medical treatment.
Here’s what their representative told me: “we will not release information to you as a plaintiff attorney.”
As a result, I requested a panel of four physicians a week ago, and as of today, I still have not received the panel. The workers compensation doctor says my client can return to work. The client went to his primary doctor on his own dime, and his primary doctor says there is absolutely no way he can work, especially since he requires pain medication.
This is how Walter Energy treats its employees. This is how many companies treat their employees. They pay their executives enormous sums of money and compensation packages, but when it comes to their employees, they treat them like second class citizens when all they are trying to do is their job.
On top of that, this corporations are buying our government, and the people of this country don’t seem to get it. The political contributions made to the various candidates are not gratuitous for the most part. They come with expectations. Donald Trump admitted it in the first debate: Hillary Clinton got my contribution, and I expected her at my wedding.
These companies should be accountable for their actions, but in the workers compensation setting, they aren’t. In the insurance setting, they aren’t. They have many laws which protect them and make it harder and harder for the average person to get a fair shake.