James Rowen
Op Ed

Briggs & Stratton Execs Get Millions

Even as employee who pushed for more pandemic protections in workplace has died from virus.

By - Jun 21st, 2020 03:42 pm
Cash. (CC0 Creative Commons).

Cash. (CC0 Creative Commons).

Depending on my energy level, I yell at the TV, fast-forward or mute it when those insultingly sanctimonious buy-our-stuff because ‘we’re all in this tougher’ ads pop up.

Because if corporations (or ‘people,’ as Mitt Romney called them a few years ago), were actually together with everyone when it comes to worker safety, workforce diversity, product integrity and ethical management, we’d have had a more equitable and healthy culture that was better prepared to navigate COVID-19 crises.

The latest illustration of these fundamental flaws and imbalances begins with a COVID-19-related business decision in our own SE Wisconsin backyard — and ironically, it speaks to the intentionally skewed distribution of power in a power-generating equipment leader:

Briggs & Stratton skips $6.7 million interest payment, awards $5 million to executives, the headline declared. And the details:

“…the company’s board of directors has voted to give executives and other key employees more than $5 million in cash retention awards… (which) included $1.2 million for Todd Teske, chairman, president and CEO; $600,000 for Mark Schwertfeger, senior vice president and chief financial officer; $425,000 for David Rodgers, senior vice president and president of the engines and power division; and $425,000 for Harold Redman, senior vice president and president of the turf and consumer products division… Spokesman Rick Carpenter said: “Within this COVID environment and as part of a series of actions to increase our financial flexibility, we elected to take the advantage of the contractual 30-day grace period with respect to the interest payment owed to our Note holders.”

And this decision to spend money on its executives just days after a separate Briggs & Stratton story about ‘this Covid environment’ and ‘tough economic times.’ 

A Briggs & Stratton employee who pushed for more coronavirus restrictions in the workplace died from the virus, the headline declared. And the details:

Mike Jackson, a 45-year-old father of eight, collapsed in late May while on the assembly line of his job at Briggs & Stratton.

Days later, he died of the coronavirus.

…In response to his death, Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of the immigrant and workers rights advocacy group Voces de la Frontera, said the group sent a public letter to the company and filed a complaint with the regional Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The letter and complaint list specific requests, including greater access to testing for employees, a mandatory mask wearing policy and ensuring there is 6 feet of distance in all departments and production lines.

Chance Zombor, a Briggs & Stratton grievance representative with United Steelworkers Local 2-232, said… Jackson was experiencing symptoms for weeks, but was afraid to take a day off work.”

James Rowen, a former journalist and mayoral staffer in Milwaukee and Madison, writes a regular blog, The Political Environment.

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Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

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