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AFSCME To Goldman Sachs: Appointing Shareholder Advocate Not Enough To Curb CEO Pay

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NEW YORK -- Goldman Sachs made a move to court unhappy shareholders by shaking up its board.

But Tuesday, a union group said it wasn't enough.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said it wasn't happy with Goldman's pick for lead director of its board. Goldman announced Monday that other board members had chosen James Schiro, a director since 2009, for the role.

Goldman had agreed the week before to create the job of lead director in an attempt to appease AFSCME. The union group had been lobbying for a more dramatic change: separating the roles of chairman and CEO, which would have effectively stripped Lloyd Blankfein of at least one of those titles.

Shareholder activists usually support separating the two roles. A board is supposed to oversee the CEO, and fire him or her if necessary, which can be more difficult when the CEO is also running the board.

When Goldman agreed to create the job of lead independent director, AFSCME applauded the move. "Today's move is a step in the right direction to make sure Wall Street CEOs are held accountable to their shareholders and that taxpayers are not on the hook for their risky bets," the union said at the time.

But that was before the board named Schiro to the job.

Schiro, who is 66, has been on Goldman's board since 2009. Lisa Lindsley, director of capital strategies at AFSCME, noted that Schiro is on the board of PepsiCo Inc., a company that has drawn AFSCME's criticism over its CEO pay practices. He is also the former CEO of accounting company PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is Goldman's auditor.

"It would be hard for him to be an independent advocate for shareholders," Lindsley said, given the PricewaterhouseCoopers ties. She said AFSCME had given Goldman feedback "about which board members would be less desirable, and Mr. Schiro was one of those."

A Goldman spokesman said the decision to elect Schiro was made by the independent directors, with no management present.

"We are confident that he will serve all of our shareholders well as lead director," the company said in a statement.

Blankfein has been chairman and CEO since 2006, seeing the company through a tumultuous time that has included quarterly losses and regulatory probes. He's been a lightning rod in the public eye, drawing the ire of people who blame the banking industry's risk-taking for the global financial crisis. The furor rekindled last month when a mid-level Goldman banker resigned with a scathing editorial in The New York Times, accusing the bank of putting its own profits ahead of taking care of customers.

In 2009, Bank of America shareholders successfully voted to separate the chairman and CEO positions, which stripped then-CEO Ken Lewis of his chairman's title. He resigned later that year.

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Skidmore reported from Portland, Ore.

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