Imagine working for one employer for your entire career. When you joined the company, it was one of the best-paying labor jobs in town. Benefits were good.
Production line work is tedious and over time, regardless of how often you bid on open slots, no matter how far your seniority lets you climb, your day-to-day routine changes little. You put up with the boredom, surrender dreams, all because your life-style has become rooted in an occupation that pays too much to let you walk away but not enough say “screw this!” You marry, have kids.
Soon enough, you feel trapped. You look at options and none seems viable. You repeatedly plan and fail to leave. The years fly by. Your dependence grows. Ultimately you see just one way out–retirement. You yearn for retirement.
Negotiated wages have limited your ability to earn more but your union agreed because delayed compensation– retirement/medical benefits (today referred to as “legacy costs) made your overall compensation acceptable. The carrot is held firmly in place, just out of reach.
Your employer makes some big mistakes for decades and has no option but to file bankruptcy, an option that removes their obligation to support you and your family through retirement. Your kids are now in college. Debts mount. What was supposed to be your “golden years” now appear to be badly rusted scrap.
That’s exactly the place that General Motors will put legions of its retirees should they file for bankruptcy. The impact will be huge, not merely to each affected household, but for the businesses they support. As health care options narrow, retirees face physical as well as fiscal challenges.
It’s going to be ugly. Promises made in good faith should be promises kept. I fear for the families who will suffer if GM reneges on its obligations to its retirees. This will be tragic, with repercussions that will resonate far beyond the families directly affected by General Motor’s recklessness.