Autoworkers May Lose Pensions


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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.

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2 Responses to Autoworkers May Lose Pensions

  1. Phil says:

    Paul,

    Well, I have to say…I worked at Packard Electric back in the 80’s when it was a division of GM (now Delphi). I worked in engineering doing mechanical design and also plant support. I couldn’t believe the crap that went on out in the plant. People sitting around doing nothing for most of the day. Conveyors making wiring harnesses, only running 4 hours a shift. Some workers would sleep most of the day, because they were too tired from doing their outside job. Is it any wonder they moved the whole operation out of the country? Over 14,000 employees worked in the Warren area…only about 1,500 remain. When you work for a company and recieve a good wage, than you should give that employer an honest days work. Who’s to blame? Management, the union…I don’t know. But I can think of more than a few people who really don’t deserve a pension, or anything else.

  2. Paul Sonderman says:

    Phil,
    I don’t contend there aren’t or weren’t problems or excesses on either side. I’ve been in situations when I went to plug an AC cord into a wall and a union gaffer told me if I did, they’d walk off my shoot. These are excesses.

    I’ve also been told by my foreman to violate safety guidelines that resulted in injury, seen guys lose hands doing the same thing I’d been told to do a day earlier and seen workers summarily fired when striking for better working conditions (aka SAFE working conditions)–think Air Traffic Controllers by “the Gipper.”

    We all can cite horror stories on both sides. Regardless, a promise is a promise. Period.

    Two wrongs don’t make a right. (But may make a slight). You invest a career in something, you should get what you were promised.

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