Posted: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 1:15 pm
In the midst of what has proven to be a vicious cycle for the waning economic climate for this nation, I have to wonder why there is hesitation by certain Congressmen to allow the auto industry to snag a small piece of billion-dollar pie. Our representatives didn’t balk at the chance to indebt this country with billions of dollars that we didn’t have to hand over to the financial sector recently. It should have been expected that companies would see the passage of the federal bailout bill as an opportunity to seek help in the wake of financial struggles. What’s $14 billion when you have already granted $700 billion? The bottom line, as I’ve said before, is a lack of consumer spending as a result of penny-pinching. Obviously the people that have purchasing power are the people who keep the economic flow steady in this country. We have watched as skyrocketing gas prices crippled our wallets, forcing us to cut back on everything from eating out to buying new clothes. When taxpayers had to choose between electricity and food before mortgage payments, expensive purchases such as new cars fell to the wayside. I am amazed that Detroit’s “Big Three” hasn’t requested help until now considering new car sales haven’t exactly been booming during the last year. While the auto industry saw the opportunity to request bailout money, a senator from Tennessee saw an opportunity to gut the United Auto Workers union as a trade-off. Republican Sen. Bob Corker, a key player in the negotiations between the auto industry and Congress, demanded the American autoworker sacrifice benefits in exchange for a lack of consumer spending. Throughout the last decade, foreign automobile manufacturers have found a way “in” to this country not only through American purchasing power, but through tax incentives in small communities to mass produce their products. Corker asked the UAW to negotiate a deal that would keep the American auto workforce in a “competitive line” with foreign companies who produce a product in this country. We ask a worker who has been with a Big Three company for 20 to 30 years to give up a portion of his pension because Nissan doesn’t offer their employees a retirement package in line with GM, Ford or Chrysler. Reportedly, a comparison in wages between the American automakers and foreign auto makers shows foreign companies dishing out a slightly higher hourly wage than its American counterparts. The Associated Press reports, however, that hourly labor costs are almost $20 more per hour for union workers in American automobile factories. “GM says its total hourly labor costs are now $69, including wages, pensions and health care for active workers, plus the pension and health care costs of more than 432,000 retirees and spouses. Toyota says its total costs are around $48. The Japanese automaker has far fewer retirees and its pension and health care benefits are not as rich as those paid to UAW workers.” Of course a company that has not been producing vehicles in this country as long as General Motors would have little to no retirees. Yet, that is in my opinion, not an acceptable excuse to “gut” the benefits of people who have worked in American-owned factories for most of their adult life. As part of Corker’s package, 50 percent of UAW VEBA benefits would be paid in stock. That’s not very hopeful considering Wall Street is currently on edge. Another highlight of Corker’s plan would eliminate compensation during production shutdowns at the American factories. Sometimes, unemployment benefits just aren’t enough if workers have to rely on those benefits until they are called back to work. Car for car, there is little difference in price between American automobiles and foreign makes. Why is it that we should have to cut benefits for American employees who work for unionized plants because people who work at Nissan have less worker benefits? An auto bailout would save 3 million jobs and at this point, I don’t think this country could sustain a bankruptcy filing by any of these large automobile companies. The shock waves would be felt, not only from the main plants themselves, but for every company that provides vehicle accessories. I was not an advocate for the initial $700 billion Wall Street, but if the invisible money that was allocated for financial institutions was not laced with any immediate concessions, then send $14 billion of that to the auto industry. At least they promise to use a portion of it to pay the people that keep production numbers steady. In the meantime, Congress should step down from its soapbox and fraternize with the American people who are at the root of the economic crisis because of slimming wallets. They can bailout Wall Street; they can bailout Detroit; yet they cannot create a way to bail-out Main Street. Once again, our representatives are still not paying attention. As for Corker, I stand by what I said in September, there is absolutely no way that you will receive a vote from me when it comes time for re-election of your Senate seat. While I appreciate your efforts to do what you think is right for this country, I cannot stand by and agree with taking away retiree pensions and medical benefits for retired spouses for the sake of trying the sell more American cars that equally compare in price to a foreign model. That, to me, has no bearing on competitiveness between sacrificing for this country or trying to appease a Japanese car company whose North American headquarters are rooted in your home state.