FTC Investigates Oil Firms Over Hiring, Wages
By THOMAS CATAN
Updated April 26, 2010 12:01 a.m. ET
WASHINGTON—The Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether the world's biggest oil companies colluded to suppress managerial, professional and technical employees' wages in ways that violated U.S. antitrust laws, according to people familiar with the matter.
The previously undisclosed probe has been open for several years and involves as many as a dozen oil companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp. XOM +1.63% , Royal Dutch Shell RDSB +0.39% PLC, BP BP +1.28% PLC and Chevron CVX -0.03% Corp, these people said. The probe remains active, they added, but the five FTC commissioners have yet to vote on the matter, and it is possible a suit will never be brought.
The investigation is the latest evidence of concern among U.S. antitrust enforcers that the nation's largest employers may be interfering with the labor market to hold down costs. The U.S. Department of Justice is carrying out a similar probe into whether companies in the technology sector have improperly agreed not to poach each other's employees, according to people familiar with that matter. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment.
The oil companies and the FTC have discussed possible settlements over the course of the investigation but have failed to reach agreement, people familiar with the matter said.
A meta-general point: there were a lot of things 35 years ago that I turned out to be more or less right about. For example, it wasn't all that popular in 1979 to argue that Big Oil companies are not the chief locus of evil in the world.
On a lot of 1970s-1980s arguments, I turned out to be on the historically winning side. And that's great!
But ... here's the thing: diminishing marginal returns.
If the arguments in 1979 for smashing up and nationalizing the oil companies were, on the whole, bad, that doesn't necessarily mean we should, in effect, gut the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in 1999.
If the CIA needed to help undermine Russia's influence in Lisbon in 1975, well, that doesn't automatically mean that, on the whole, its all that crucial the CIA should do the same thing in Donetsk in 2014. It's 4,800 km from Lisbon to Donetsk by air. Sure, the Game of Nations never ends and all that, but we've built up a huge lead.