Safeway calls bid to oust CEO publicity stunt

PLEASANTON, CA: Safeway has derided several pension funds' efforts to oust the company's CEO as nothing more than a publicity stunt. Several pension funds are trying to oust CEO Steven Burd from the board of directors, along with two other board members.

PLEASANTON, CA: Safeway has derided several pension funds' efforts to oust the company's CEO as nothing more than a publicity stunt. Several pension funds are trying to oust CEO Steven Burd from the board of directors, along with two other board members.

Fund officials are claiming lax management and poor financial performance as their rationale for the move.

But Safeway issued a statement blasting the campaign as "at the behest of union leadership." Safeway recently was picketed, along with other supermarkets, by unions during contract negotiations. Health-care costs were a major source of contention in those talks.

VP of public affairs Brian Dowling said he would not comment beyond the released statement, which said that the campaign "is shrouded in the language of corporate governance issues, [which] may help garner press coverage."

Which is exactly what it did. The Financial Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Associated Press were among the many media outlets that wrote about the pension funds' efforts, with BusinessWeek.com comparing the situation to Walt Disney investors trying to oust CEO Michael Eisner.

Dowling declined to say what moves the supermarket chain would take to refute the charges and reach out to investors.

The brewing fight continues to keep Safeway's executives and corporate governance in the media spotlight, on the heels of its often contentious negotiations with unions.

Safeway's media statement rejects many of the pension funds' charges, arguing that those accusations "can't create legitimacy where there is none." Safeway contends that it announced two months ago that it plans to put the whole board up for re-election annually and that it has spent billions of dollars on its stores, rebutting critics' charges that the company has been lax in doing both.

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