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A sweetheart deal or sweetheart contract is a contractual agreement, usually worked out in secret, that greatly benefits some of the parties while inappropriately disadvantaging other parties or the public at large. The term was coined in the 1940s to describe corrupt labor contracts that were favorable to the employer rather than the workers, and usually involved some kind of kickback or special treatment for the labor negotiator.
The term is also applied to special arrangements between private corporations and government entities, whereby the corporation and sometimes a government official reap the benefits, rather than the public. No-bid contracts may be awarded to people who have political connections or make donations to influential politicians. Sometimes a sweetheart deal involves tax breaks or other inducements to get a corporation to do business in that city or state.
A "sweetheart settlement" may also occur in a legal context. For example, in a class-action lawsuit the attorneys representing a class of plaintiffs may reach an agreement with the defendant in which the primary result is a lucrative fee for the attorneys rather than maximum compensation for the class members.
Noted instances and allegations
- In a 1947 unionization dispute, San Francisco area grocery store owners claimed that other stores who had "given-in" to union demands had signed sweetheart deals with the unions.
- In a 1949 dispute between the rival American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) involving unionization of the laundry industry in Indianapolis, Indiana, a lawyer for the 42 laundry and dry-cleaning plants testified before the National Labor Relations Board that an AFL union contract was not a sweetheart deal between the employers and AFL union officials, as alleged by the CIO.
- The terms of a 2008 plea bargain to settle criminal charges against financier Jeffrey Epstein have been called a sweetheart deal by many commentators.
- The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was said to contain an obscure sweetheart deal for certain tech companies.
A 2019 study examined the language of government contracts, looking for "sweetheart terms" – wording that is "highly favorable to the firm, but not obviously advantageous to the government". They found that such language is more commonly included in contracts with firms that make political contributions.
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- Sherman, Ted (August 2, 2019). "Political players got sweetheart deals in poor N.J. school district, critics charge". NJ.com. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
- Thomas, Crystal (July 23, 2019). "'Sweetheart deal' or 'wording issue'? Missouri tax credit tailored for Burns & McDonnell". Kansas City Star. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
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- "Store Owners Picket Grocery Shops in Marin". The San Francisco Examiner. Nov 8, 1947. Retrieved September 16, 2019 – via Newspapers.com .
- Hunt, Lester (June 17, 1949). "Laundry Labor Dispute Heads For Washingthon". Indianapolis Star. p. 4. Retrieved September 16, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Alex Acosta made an ethically compromised decision 10 years ago. Today, he should resign". Miami Herald. July 10, 2019. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
- Gregorian, Dareh (December 5, 2018). "Lawmakers demand probe of sex offender Jeffrey Epstein's 'sweetheart deal'". NBC News. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
- Johnston, David Cay (January 26, 2018). "Apple's Sweetheart Tax Deal". DC Report. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
- Summers, Clyde W. (1987), "Some Historical Reflections on Landrum-Griffin," Hofstra Labor and Employment Law Journal: Vol. 4: Issue 2, Article 1, page 210.
- Ferris; Stephen P.; Houston, Reza; Javadhakze, David (January 6, 2019). "It is a Sweetheart of a Deal: Political Connections and Corporate‐Federal Contracting". The Financial Review. 54 (1): 57–84. doi:10.1111/fire.12181.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)