Unions in threat to Blackstone

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Unions have threatened to stop investing billions in pension savings with Blackstone if the private-equity group fails to help mend a rift between staff and executives at Deutsche Telekom, part-owned by the US investor.

The former German state telecoms monopoly, under pressure from nimbler rivals, is in talks with staff to move about a quarter of its 180,000 German employees to new subsidiaries that could pay 40 per cent less.

Union Network International, which claims to bundle 15m workers in 900 unions in Germany, the US, and 138 other countries, asked Blackstone chief executive Stephen Schwarzman to intervene in the dispute.

Should he refuse, officials said in an open letter, “we may well recommend that Blackstone no longer be considered” when union pension-scheme managers decide where to invest. The buy-out group declined to comment.

The threat marks a novel twist to the relationship between owners and workers, though its wording leaves the grouping’s affiliates room to wriggle.

The resolution, passed by a Union Network International (Uni) telecoms meeting in Athens, is meant to draw Blackstone into a debate at a time when private equity faces scrutiny and calls for transparency.

Published in time for today’s first anniversary of Blackstone’s buying a 4.5 per cent Telekom stake from the German government, it is also a reminder of the trouble the US investor took on with an unusual deal.

Instead of buying control and going private, Blackstone spent €3.3bn on a small stake in the hope of quietly forcing change using its seat on a supervisory board of twenty. The government holds a third of Telekom.

But it took Blackstone eight months to persuade other non-executives to replace Telekom chief executive Kai-Uwe Ricke with René Obermann. Shares still languish as the new boss grapples with high costs.

In their letter Uni general secretary Philip Jennings and telecoms head Larry Cohen, also head of the Communication Workers’ Union of America, partly blamed Blackstone for touting “unacceptable” remedies.

Without giving details, they said Blackstone telecoms and media head Larry Guffey had been “involved in several restructurings viewed by us as deliberate attempts by Blackstone to profit at direct cost of our members”.

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