War on Greed Gets a New Enemy: Goldman Sachs

[Updated below with filmmaker comments] Brave New Films yesterday released the latest video in its War on Greed series, which previously had focused most of its attention on Henry Kravis and KKR. The new target is federal bailout funds recipient Goldman Sachs, for shoddy treatment of Burger King employees. Goldman, you may remember, teamed up with Bain Capital and TPG Captial to buy the Whopper maker back in 2002.

“Wait a minute,” says rhetorical reader. “Didn’t Burger King IPO in 2006, with Goldman Sachs now holding less than 11% of the company’s outstanding shares?”

Of course it did, although you won’t hear anything about that in the Brave New Films video. Instead, you’d assume that the private equity consortium still owns Burger King lock, stock and frialator. In fact, the video’s narrator refers to Goldman as being “at the helm of the Burger King Corporation.”

It’s the type of blatant omission that needlessly discredits the entire video – and which was easily avoided. The SEIU, for example, has released a related white paper, in which it acknowledges the IPO (and the subsequent rise in profits), but argues Goldman still has major influence via its representation on the BK board of directors and executive committee. It then goes on to argue that Goldman should require BK to treat its employees better, including a wage increase that would take fulltimers over the federal poverty line.

“But Goldman Sachs still wouldn’t have the power to enact such changes unilaterally, even if it wanted to,” rhetorical reader chimes in.

True, which is one more reason that Burger King is an odd target for Brave New Films and SEIU to have picked. They probably are correct that Burger King should improve its treatment of employees (wages, benefits, etc.), but there would have been dozens of better examples where the targeted owner was actually… you know, the owner.

You can read the SEIU white paper here, and view the video below:

UPDATE: A Brave New Films spokesman calls in to say the following:

“First of all, 11% is a significant stake in a company… and they have seats on the board, so there’s plenty Goldman Sachs could do with that position to effect change for workers. Second, when Goldman and two other private equity firms took Burger King private, that was the unilateral opportunity they had to make real change for the families who work at Burger King, and they didn’t do anything. Instead, they took a bunch of money out.

Today they still have a position to advocate for change or to distance itself from the poverty wages paid there, but haven’t done so. If Goldman Sachs came out publicly with a statement condemning Burger King’s labor practices and said workers deserve a raise, then we’d certainly alter the video, or perhaps even cut a new one, to get that message out there. But, right now, our position is that Goldman Sachs is responsible, given its history with Burger King and Burger King’s economic practices.”