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* SEIU asks for pay czar to stop Lewis’ severance package
* Group says BofA should increase lending first
* Lewis’ stands to get $125 million when he leaves (Adds bank’s comment, paragraph 5-6; byline, previous WASHINGTON)
By Karey Wutkowski and Joe Rauch
WASHINGTON/ NEW YORK, Oct 8 (Reuters) - A top U.S. labor group on Thursday asked the Obama administration’s “pay czar” to stop any retirement payments to Bank of America (BAC.N) Chief Executive Ken Lewis.
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.
A Bank of America spokesman disputed both the SEIU’s figures and a compensation consultants’ analysis of Lewis’ retirement compensation.
The bank received only $45 billion in federal assistance through the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the spokesman said. A proposed $118 billion of taxpayer funds, known as the Asset Guarantee Term Sheet, meant to share losses on the bank’s purchase of Merrill Lynch was never initiated, and on Sept. 21 the company agreed to pay $425 million to exit the preliminary term sheet.
Lewis’ retirement pay includes $53.2 million, mostly from a pension program frozen years ago, and $72.8 million in accumulated stock and other compensation, according to an analysis by New York-based compensation consultant James F. Reda & Associates.
Feinberg, serving as the government’s pay czar for the financial bailout program, does not necessarily have explicit authority over Lewis’ severance package because the contract may pre-date his authority.
But Congress gave Feinberg broad authority to issue advisory opinions that could impact Lewis.
SEIU said Bank of America, under the management of Lewis, has restricted lending to consumers and small businesses while raising interest rates and failing to modify distressed home loans.
The group said Feinberg should stop any severance payments to Lewis until Bank of America commits to stop foreclosures, provide more affordable loans, lower interest rates on credit cards, and reform pay practices so they are in line with shareholder interests.
“The American people are counting on you to reform the reckless culture of Wall Street that allows bank executives to drive our economy into the ground and walk away with millions,” the letter said. (Reporting by Karey Wutkowski and Joe Rauch, editing by Dave Zimmerman, Leslie Gevirtz)