April 28, 2005
The News Journal (Delaware)
Environmental, labor group ideas rejected
Protesters picket DuPont shareholders meeting
By RICHARD SINE / The News Journal
DuPont shareholders filing out of Wednesday's annual meeting
in Wilmington's DuPont theater confronted a raucous scene:
A 10-foot-tall inflatable rat carrying the sign "C-8 Killed
Me!" A woman in a skeleton mask with a sign reading "DuPont
Move Your Dioxin Pile." And a man shouting "Don't eat
the fish!" - a reference to his belief DuPont was poisoning
the Delaware River.
The messages were mostly lost on shareholders like Dave Frantz,
a retired DuPont engineer from Hockessin who had affixed a company
button on his blue suit. "I agree with management,"
Frantz said, adding, "DuPont has the scientific expertise
to handle environmental issues."
Proposals by environmental, labor and faith-based groups were
rejected Wednesday, as shareholders accepted chief executive Charles
O. Holliday Jr.'s assurance that the company was acting responsibly
as it sought growth.
All board nominees were re-elected by greater than 95 percent
margins, according to preliminary vote results. Six shareholder-sponsored
resolutions that management opposed were defeated by margins topping
Such margins are not unusual, as shareholders typically side
with management at annual meetings. But the meetings are still
a key forum for corporate critics. Protests over environmental
and human-rights issues marked the Coca-Cola Co.'s annual meeting
in Wilmington last week.
Capturing the most attention at DuPont's meeting Wednesday was
a first-time proposal requiring more disclosure of the costs related
to the controversial chemical known as PFOA, or C-8.
"We believe the health and environmental concerns about
PFOA are raising huge financial concerns for our company,"
proposal backer Sanford Lewis said at the meeting. "In my
opinion, investors need to know more."
Lewis, spokesman for a labor-led group called DuPont Shareholders
for Fair Value, said the company should disclose what actions
it is taking to monitor health or environmental effects at the
plants where PFOA is used.
In a news conference outside the meeting, Jim Rowe, an employee
at the Deepwater, N.J., plant, said DuPont was testing for PFOA
levels in workers' blood. The testing should be done by an independent
organization, he said.
PFOA, a processing agent used in production of Teflon and other
products, has been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals
and to be widely present in humans' blood. The U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency is studying its effects on humans.
Holliday said the chemical has no effect on human health. He
said DuPont had reduced PFOA emissions from plants by 98 percent
So far, most information about the company's use of PFOA has
been revealed in lawsuits, Lewis said. Shareholders deserve to
know how DuPont is handling potential liabilities before litigation
arises, he said.
Liabilities over PFOA are already piling up. Earlier this year,
DuPont agreed to pay nearly $108 million to settle a class-action
lawsuit filed by Ohio and West Virginia residents who said their
drinking water was contaminated with PFOA. And last year, the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sued DuPont, alleging the
company withheld information about the chemical. Fines could exceed
The resolution garnered slightly less than 9 percent of the votes
cast Wednesday. Lewis called the figure "a very high vote
for a first-time resolution."
In other voting Wednesday, shareholders rejected proposals to
tie executive compensation and stock options to company performance.
The company said it already does this. But a proposal backer
noted that Holliday has received millions of dollars in options
even though the stock has declined about 13 percent in the past
Labor leaders took advantage of the meeting to protest reductions
in pension benefits.
"DuPont hasn't increased pensions in 15 years, but health
care payments have increased and that's why pension checks have
been reduced," said Jim Briggs, an official with United Steelworkers.
Anne Cole, benefits manager for DuPont, said pensions were last
increased in 1996. Pension levels are comparable with other large
companies, Cole said.
Company retirees were first asked to pay health insurance premiums
in 1994, Cole said. While saying premiums had increased over the
years, she declined to quantify the increase, saying benefits
changes made a true comparison impossible.
After introducing some of DuPont's newest products to shareholders
Wednesday, Holliday spent most of his brief presentation defending
DuPont's labor and environmental policies.
Holliday "took a lot of abuse" during the shareholders'
meeting, said shareholder Anne Kratzer of Hockessin, widow of
a DuPont engineer. She rated his performance as "perfect."
Shareholder Bill Callahan, a retired DuPont engineer from Radnor,
Pa., voted for the review of executive pay and options. "Like
many people in America, I'm impatient with the affluence of the
corporate executive," he said.
This article includes information from the Associated Press.
Contact Richard Sine at 324-2878 or firstname.lastname@example.org.