In order to cut costs, Lockheed Martin made the decision to freeze its pension plan back in 2016, and recently offloaded $4.9 billion in pension liabilities to Athene Annuity and Life Co., per Pension&Investments. This begs the question, what else will they do in 2021 to protect their dividend?
Fortune 500 companies have been scrambling to protect their dividends and keep their shareholders happy. The results have been generally negative for workers at those companies. This trend has affected corporations in many different industries. Let’s take a look at some specific examples from AT&T and ExxonMobil.
Back in June of 2020, The Dallas Morning News reported that AT&T was planning a $6 billion job cost cutting initiative which would “make ‘sizable’ job cuts and close hundreds of retail stores.” This was obviously a response to the current economic downturn, but the plan was made with the goal of preserving the dividend in mind. That same article reported that “AT&T has been under pressure to reduce costs and sell assets to help pay down debt, expand 5G wireless networks, raise its shareholder dividend, and expand its WarnerMedia entertainment offerings.” The results have been several thousand job cuts and several hundred closed storefronts.
Last year, Reuters reported that Neil Chapman, ExxonMobil’s Senior Vice President, stated that the company would be cutting capital and operating expenses to protect its dividend. ExxonMobil has since announced that it will no longer be matching U.S. employee’s contributions to their retirement savings plans. The suspension of these benefits will officially begin on October 1st, 2020. This is the latest step in a long line of troubling economic developments in which companies are attempting to save their dividends. According to Reuters, ExxonMobil has now experienced “its first back-to-back quarterly loss in 36 years because of the drop in demand during the novel coronavirus pandemic.” This announcement comes on the heels of several stories claiming that ExxonMobil was effectively laying people off through PIP.
A PIP or “Performance Improvement Plan” is essentially a severance offer to leave the company. According to Forbes, ExxonMobil made changes to its performance evaluation process in order to justify more job cuts. Back in April, ExxonMobil raised the number of employees who were in the “Needs Significant Improvement” (NSI) category from 3% to 8% of all US workers. Employees who were placed in the NSI category qualified for a PIP. ExxonMobil employs about 75,000 people, so an 8% reduction would result in about 6,000 people out of a job. According to Business Insider, the changes made to ExxonMobil’s employee evaluation process were an attempt to “cut more jobs without traditional layoffs.”
All of these decisions are being made in the name of protecting dividends. ExxonMobil has raised the payout on its dividend annually for 37 straight years, and it is very much a streak they would like to continue. When corporations prioritize their dividends, the result is typically a lot of employees out of a job.
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“The Retirement/Transition Guide for Lockheed Martin Employees.” The Retirement Group, The Retirement Group, 11 Aug. 2020, https://defense.theretirementgroup.com/lockheed-martin-guide-download-google
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XOM Summary Plan Description, 2017