Axed Goldman workers fight back

by Minoru Matsutani

Staff Writer

Three former employees of Goldman Sachs Japan are willing to take legal action if they don’t get their jobs back or the company doesn’t negotiate in good faith, a spokesman for the three said.

“They terminated our employment without cause and justification. They acted in bad faith, pretended to negotiate but did not really negotiate,” Timothy Langley, a supporter of the three, said in Tokyo at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. Langley, who is not a attorney but has studied Japanese laws, is providing them with legal advice.

The feud adds to the investment bank’s publicity troubles after former Goldman Sachs employee Greg Smith recently criticized its corporate culture in a New York Times Op-Ed piece and caused a stir in the financial industry.

Goldman Sachs’ actions in firing the three appear no different from what it has done in the past or what other American or European companies have done. Their superior and a human resources employee called them up last August, told them their jobs had disappeared, presented a severance package and held meeting after meeting to get them to sign the notice of termination, which they never did.

One of the former employees accompanied Langley to the club but wore a mask and used an alias, Adam Lee. He said the mask represented the way Goldman Sachs treats employees.

“To them, every face is nothing but a name and a number for them to crunch. I want to put a real face on this faceless mask,” he said. He and the other two founded the Goldman Sachs Japan Employee Union.

It is extremely rare for foreign investment bank employees, many of whom get paid a lot more than people in other industries, to form a labor union and the case has generated much public interest.

“I have never heard of any foreign investment banks forming a labor union, and I don’t know why,” said Yumiko Nakajima, secretary general of the National Union of General Workers, Tokyo Nambu, to which the Goldman Sachs Japan Employee Union belongs.

The three requested anonymity to avoid jeopardizing their chances of getting new jobs, Langley said.

The three have yet to sign the pink slips. The company considers them fired, but they don’t. They received smaller salaries in February and no pay this month.

The two unions and Goldman Sachs Japan are now in negotiations over the dismissals.

“We are currently in discussions with the National Union of General Workers, Tokyo Nambu, over the termination dispute. We are negotiating in good faith,” Goldman Sachs spokeswoman Hiroko Matsumoto said, reciting the company’s official comment.

Goldman Sachs and other American and European investment banks generally fire employees with little or no notice, unlike Japanese firms, but they do often pay generous severance packages.

Amid falling revenue, Goldman Sachs cut the number of its employees worldwide by 7 percent to 33,300 as of the end of last year from 35,700 a year ago, Matsumoto said, declining to say how many dismissals were made in Japan. Goldman Sachs employs about 1,300 people here.