Last week, many were shocked to hear that Ken Lewis, the embattled CEO of Bank of America, was resigning. Amidst lawsuits and virtually every man, woman and child in the U.S. questioning his judgment, he was surely looking forward to a pleasant retirement. As he wrote his goodbye letter he must have been thinking: you won't have Ken Lewis to kick around anymore. But one of the big labor lobbies, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) doesn't want Lewis's retirement to be as pleasant as he might have imagined. They want Obama's compensation czar, Kenneth Feinberg, to seize his pension.
The Service Employees International Union sent a letter to pay czar Kenneth Feinberg, calling Lewis "one of the chief architects" of the economic crisis and saying he should not receive any retirement or severance package until the bank stops foreclosures and increases lending.
"Taxpayers have already provided nearly $200 billion in bailouts and backstops to Bank of America," the letter said. "This enormous public investment entitles taxpayers to have a say in the bank's executive compensation practices."
Bank of America announced last week that Lewis will leave the company by year-end. Lewis stands to receive a retirement package worth $125 million.
Okay, first, let me defend Lewis for just a second (and only a second). I think it's a stretch to call him one of the "chief architects" of the economic crisis. Bank of America was never much more than a glorified retail bank. During the course of the crisis, it made two huge acquisitions: Countrywide and Merrill Lynch. Both were pretty terrible for shareholders in the short-term. But the failure of those two firms would have been ugly for the broader economy. If anything, Lewis' actions helped soften the blow of the economic crisis.