How Not to Negotiate a Pension Deal: Accuse Your CEO of Having an Affair

Last Updated Nov 19, 2010 4:09 PM EST

I'm fairly confident that AstraZeneca (AZN) CEO David Brennan is not having an "affair" with "a senior female colleague," despite what this blogger says. Rather, it's more likely that this anonymous, unsourced allegation is linked to the strike at AZ's Macclesfield production facility, where 600 workers are protesting changes to their pension plan. An AZ spokesman said only:
I'm not going to dignify this with a response.
The blog, AstraZeneca A to Z, sprung up on Aug 18, when workers in the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trade Union (GMB) first voted to authorize strike action. Management wants to change their pension scheme from an open-ended "defined benefit" plan to a fixed-cost "defined-contribution" plan. Since then, the blog has devoted three of its seven posts to the pension issue. The strike is now in its 10th day.

What are the odds that this blog is being run by someone supporting the strikers in an attempt to increase the pressure on Brennan -- whose name the blog spells wrong repeatedly -- to cave on pensions? (As I noted recently, AstraZeneca is not financially in a position to do anything else other than lay off workers or reduce benefits.)

The union's best strategy here might be to agree to the defined contribution plan on the condition that the size of the employer contribution is increased from what's currently on the table. Remember, Brennan's goal here is not just to reduce costs but to make costs predictable, which is why there is no way in hell the defined benefit plan will survive, and why the GMB ought to concentrate on getting as much padding into that defined contribution plan as it can.

If Brennan even notices the blog, it will only annoy him. Will that help the strikers? Probably not. What it might do is weaken the GMB's position: Given that the blogger has published zero evidence to back the claim despite saying that Brennan and the woman are "strongly linked," the blog is a per se libel both in the U.S. and, crucially, in the U.K., where defamation laws operate with medieval strictness. It is not impossible for Brennan to sue the blogger and uncover his/her identity. If that happened, and the blogger turned out to be connected to the strike, the GMB can forget about chiseling some extra points out of management on the pensions issue.

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