Sweetheart deal

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

A sweetheart deal or sweetheart contract is a contractual agreement, usually worked out in secret, that greatly benefits some of the parties while 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.[1][2] 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.[3] 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.[4]

The 1959 Landrum-Griffin Act was a federal law that attempted to prevent sweetheart labor contracts and other forms of corrupt dealing by unions.[5]

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.[6] No-bid contracts may be awarded to people who have political connections or make donations to influential politicians.[7] 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.[8] Sometimes a sweetheart deal involves tax breaks or other inducements to get a corporation to do business in that city or state.[9][10] The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was said to contain an obscure sweetheart deal for certain tech companies.[11]

A "sweetheart settlement" may occur in a legal context. For example, in a class-action lawsuit the attorneys for the group 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.[12] A highly advantageous 2008 plea bargain to settle criminal charges against financier Jeffrey Epstein has been called a sweetheart deal by many commentators.[13][14]


  1. ^ Main, Carla T. (2007). Bulldozed: "Kelo," Eminent Domain and the American Lust for Land. New York: Encounter Books. p. 62. ISBN 1594032890. Retrieved 2017-01-19.
  2. ^ Weir, Robert E.; Hanlan, James P. (2004). Historical Encyclopedia of American Labor. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 478. ISBN 0313328641. Retrieved 2017-01-19.
  3. ^ Hunt, Lester (June 17, 1949). "Laundry Labor Dispute Heads For Washingthon". Indianapolis Star. p. 4. Retrieved September 16, 2019 – via Newspapers.com. Free to read
  4. ^ "Store Owners Picket Grocery Shops in Marin". The San Francisco Examiner. Nov 8, 1947. Retrieved September 16, 2019 – via Newspapers.com Free to read.
  5. ^ Summers, Clyde W. (1987), "Some Historical Reflections on Landrum-Griffin," Hofstra Labor and Employment Law Journal: Vol. 4: Issue 2, Article 1, page 210.
  6. ^ Palmatier, Robert Allen (2000). Food: A Dictionary of Literal and Nonliteral Terms. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 352. ISBN 0313314365. Retrieved 2017-01-19.
  7. ^ Sherman, Ted (August 2, 2019). "Political players got sweetheart deals in poor N.J. school district, critics charge". NJ.com. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  8. ^ 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).CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ Thomas, Crystal (July 23, 2019). "'Sweetheart deal' or 'wording issue'? Missouri tax credit tailored for Burns & McDonnell". Kansas City Star. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  10. ^ "Are corporate tax incentives worth it?". The Week. February 12, 2018. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  11. ^ Johnston, David Cay (January 26, 2018). "Apple's Sweetheart Tax Deal". DC Report. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  12. ^ Mathis, Klaus, ed. (2014). Law and Economics in Europe: Foundations and Applications. Dordrecht: Springer Science+Business Media. p. 246. ISBN 940077110X. Retrieved 2017-01-19.
  13. ^ "Alex Acosta made an ethically compromised decision 10 years ago. Today, he should resign". Miami Herald. July 10, 2019. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  14. ^ Gregorian, Dareh (December 5, 2018). "Lawmakers demand probe of sex offender Jeffrey Epstein's 'sweetheart deal'". NBC News. Retrieved 1 September 2019.