March 21, 2009 in Business

AIG workers living in fear

Company receiving death threats
John Christoffersen Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

AIG executive Douglas Poling, who lives in this home in Fairfield, Conn., is one of three of the company’s executives who has said he plans to return his bonus.
(Full-size photo)

FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Pillars of the community are now pariahs fearing for their safety in a ritzy area of Connecticut that’s home to many executives at American International Group Inc., hit with a backlash over bonuses it paid to top brass even as it took federal bailout money.

The payouts to executives appear to have helped put a face on the economic struggles the country faces, and the anger targeting AIG is palpable. Death threats have been pouring in since the brouhaha broke, the company said, and its workers are taking no chances.

“It’s scary,” one executive said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution. “People are very, very nervous for their security.”

The financial products division is in Wilton in Fairfield County, and many of the company’s leaders live in large homes on the “Gold Coast,” an area known more for golf courses and sweeping views of Long Island Sound than for the police cars that now regularly patrol the well-kept streets.

Corporate officials advised employees in a memo posted on Gawker.com to avoid wearing the company logo, in an effort to keep from drawing attention. Workers were also urged to travel in pairs at night and park in well-lit areas.

And typifying the preoccupation with the AIG payouts, a busload of activists plans to drive by executives’ houses today in an attempt to deliver letters highlighting the strife of ordinary families in the recession and seeking solutions for economic recovery.

AIG said Friday that at least three executives who received bonuses planned to return the money, including James Haas and Doug Poling, both residents of Fairfield County.

“However someone may feel about the appropriateness of the retention payments, there is nothing appropriate about the threats that people have made to and about employees,” company spokesman Mark Herr said in a statement.

The Polings help out charities including a homeless shelter, theaters and a school, according to the Connecticut Post. At their house, a large white Colonial on a cul-de-sac, a police car pulled up Friday afternoon and talked to a security guard.

Officer Joe Kalson said he drives by two or three times a day as of late and that other officers patrol the area, as well.

Organizers of the bus protest noted that there are no plans to trespass and that only a small group planned to get off the bus at each stop.

The protest is an attempt to let people suffering from loss of jobs or homes tell their stories directly to AIG executives, said organizer Jon Green, director of Connecticut Working Families, a coalition of labor unions and other groups.

“There is a human cost to the economic meltdown that we’re experiencing,” Green said.

Security companies in New York say the financial crisis has created brisk business in everything from bomb-sniffing dogs to bodyguards for executives. The firms didn’t want to identify the companies for security reasons.

Pat Timlin, president of Michael Stapleton Associates, which provides dog teams, said some companies are reacting to the negative atmosphere surrounding Wall Street firms.

“These are people used to living private lives, and are now faced with publicity and attention, often negative attention, and they’re worried and responding to that,” Timlin said.

Tim Horner, managing director at Kroll Security, said the financial industry is taking any perceived risk much more seriously. He has seen an increase on the human resources side of security from companies concerned about hostile laid-off employees.

He has also seen more companies reacting to the very public criticism of once very private companies like AIG.

“There are corporations that have been spotlighted as those responsible or whatever, where they weren’t before, and it’s a concern,” he said. “What’s going on here is the stress that individuals and corporations are facing, given a downturn economy. The problems are highlighted more during this time.”

Horner said AIG seems to be responding prudently to a corporate security risk.

“I’m sure there is not only a perceived risk, but there are probably threatening or harassing e-mails and blog entries all over the place. They’re right to cover themselves,” he said.

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