Think back to the last time you traded in your car for an upgrade. In the months after the deal was done, how much thought did you give to how the old car was doing? I'll bet not much. I'd wager good money you didn't, say, phone the new owner three months later to make sure he remembered to take the car in for an oil change. The thing about used cars is, once you get rid of one, it becomes somebody else's problem, and you forget about it.
That's fine and dandy when you're talking about used cars. But U.S. industry has developed a troubling habit of late of treating its "used employees" -- retirees -- the same way. The airlines have been the most high-profile offenders in recent weeks, with first United Airlines and then Continental Airlines
Take note: This isn't a Bethlehem Steel story (although that would have been bad enough), where prior to being bought out by International SteelGroup
Say what you want about the airlines and their pension cuts (I think them unconscionable), at least those companies are on the brink of bankruptcy -- and a dying company can't always afford to play fair. Lucent, on the other hand, is finally emerging from several years of unprofitability, and earlier this month received the promise of an $800 million windfall from an IRS tax rebate. That would be enough to pay the axed pension benefits for more than 16,000 retirees' dependents for nearly a decade.
When a company doesn't treat its own employees fairly, despite having the means to do so, investors beware. Not only does that bode ill for how the company might treat outside shareholders; it also puts the company's ability to recruit and retain new talented employees at risk. And that's bad for business.
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Fool contributor Rich Smith owns no shares in any of the companies mentioned here.