Contextual Content

Retired auto workers have their say Pt.1

June 19 – TRNN Senior Editor Paul Jay talks to retired autoworkers from Detroit about the effects of the automobile crisis on their pension and health benefits.

Paul Wolfarth, an autoworker who retired in 2008, says that he has already lost his vision benefits with the new bankruptcy agreement between the UAW and the automobile companies. "The new workers, my biggest fear is the new workers coming in are going to be paid $14 an hour and they’re not not going to support the retirees," Wolfarth says. "The active workers do the voting; we have no voice."

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, coming to you from Detroit. I’m with a group of retired autoworkers and a wife of a retired auto worker, salaried and hourly. And we’re going to talk about the current state of the auto industry, the bailout, and what a vision for a future of the auto industry might be. So welcome, everybody. Tell us a little bit, you know, who you are, and a little bit about what you think of the bailout, how it might affect you.

PAUL WOLFARTH: Oh. My name’s Paul Wolfarth, and I retired last year, in ’08, from a Chrysler jeep plant down in Toledo, Ohio. And I spent 31 years on a factory floor. At the time when I retired, it looked pretty good, and, you know, I thought, yeah, there was some downsides to it, but, you know, over the past year, the economy worsened, and then we had the bankruptcy, and now we are where we are. You know? But the bailout monies, I was worried about—you know, you were talking about the bailout money, and I was—you know, all the spending, but yet the government just keeps getting all this money. And I don’t understand. They’re still not talking about reinvesting in the United States, you know, to bring these jobs back to the United States.

JAY: Well, how do you think this might affect you, the bailout package?

WOLFARTH: The new workers, my biggest fear is the new workers coming in are going to be paid $14 an hour and they’re not not going to support the retirees. The active workers do the voting; we have no voice. So I’m worried in that aspect that I’m going to be affected. I’ve lost my optical. I’m going to lose my dental here this next month and benefits.

JAY: Why are you going to lose your dental and your optical?

WOLFARTH: That’s the contract that’s what they’ve agreed on to the bankruptcy proceedings. So by next year we’re going to go into this VEBA, and it’s where the UAW is going to be the owners of 55 percent of Chrysler, which really s nothing. You know, there’s no value right now at this time if they don’t sell cars.

JAY: And one board member, I think.

WOLFARTH: Yeah, maybe one board member, yeah. Right. So, you know, I get concerns about that, how that’s all going to play out. I don’t feel that these—I feel in the future there’s going to be a war between either the UAW leadership or the new workers, the active workers, and the retirees. I don’t know how that’s going to all play out yet, but I feel that we might be on the short end of the stick on this thing, ’cause they’ve got $14 an hour. They got a 401(k). They ain’t going to be able to afford to fund a 401(k). Those people are going to barely make it. They’re not going to be able to afford a car, a new car. How are they going to afford to fund their retirement? And they’re going to look at us, and we’re going to be making this—you know, we’re going to have benefits that they can only dream of. You know.

JAY: So eventually you think you lose your benefits ’cause they don’t [inaudible].

WOLFARTH: That’s right. That’s what’s going to happen.

JAY: Eventually they’ll negotiate away your benefits.

WOLFARTH: That’s what I’m afraid of, unless we can change that as retirees, if we can somehow change that, that we have some voice in the negotiations of contracts.

JAY: What are your concerns?

Well, one of my concerns is we continually bail out, like, the big banks. They’re not being held accountable. We ask for a loan, and we are being gutted. And continually, week after week after week, you hear that we’re losing 20,000 jobs here, 100,000 jobs there. These are jobs. Something like 80-90 million jobs have left the country in the last 20-some years. We continually spend like them jobs are still here. How much longer before we bankrupt the country and we’re all going to lose? You know. Somewhere along the line, the legislators need to wake up and level the playing field, which gives all the workers in this country a fair break.

JAY: Well, how would they do that?

Change the trade laws. We have tariffs on our products going to other countries, anywhere from 30 to 100 percent tariff on our products going to other countries. Their products come in here tariff-free. How can you compete against that? You can’t. Let’s level the playing field and compete on equal footing. And the US workers can compete against anybody in the world, bar none.

I’m a little worried that whatever happens to the UAW is going to trickle down to the salaried people. So I guess keeping the UAW’s benefits is important to me to—.

JAY: So just to be clear, you weren’t in the UAW before.

No.

JAY: You were a salaried worker outside the union.

Right, right.

JAY: Okay. What did you think of this point that was made just before about the issue of tariffs? And, I mean, I would challenge you on this, which is you guys had it pretty good for a long time when most of the workers in the world, never mind many workers in the United States, didn’t. But, you know, isn’t the issue more how do you deal with unionization globally than just a question of tariffs? ‘Cause if you just create this increased competition, how is that going to help?

Okay. People with were sold a phony bill of goods. They took our jobs overseas to various other countries, and the outlook was that we was going to raise the standard of living in their countries, when, really, it’s destroyed the standard of living in this country. Now, if you compete on a equal footing with other countries, you’re not really creating competition; you’re leveling the playing field where everybody can compete equally. Therefore the other countries, their standard of living comes up, and ours don’t continually go down. You know, we was down here for the international auto show. We talked to reporters from all over the world. And the people in the rest of the world know that what’s going on in this country is absolutely wrong. The rich are getting richer, and the working people are getting screwed.

ELLA YARDLEY: My name is Ella Yardley, and I’m a salaried retiree, a UAW retiree from Local 412. I retired 18 years ago from Chrysler after 35 years there. And I have to say I was treated very well by the UAW-negotiated contracts, because I got a good pension and good benefits up until recently, when they start taking some of them away. But it’s been fine, you know. But I’ve always complained about NAFTA. That trade agreement should never have been agreed to, and they should go in and renegotiate that. And I email everybody all the time to do it, but they won’t do it. I just hate how the government’s giving these billions of dollars to banks, and then this—I mean, Chrysler’s given, as far as I’m concerned, to the Italian company, Fiat. You know, and old Walter Chrysler’s turning over in his grave right now, and probably Doug Fraser to boot, just at the things that are happening, because it’s terrible what’s happening in this country. I’ve been in this country 54 years, and I’ve never seen it like this. Never. And the government should be ashamed of what they’ve done to the people.

BOB MCGREEVEY: I’m Bob McGreevey. I’m a UAW-Chrysler retiree, Local 412. I’ve worked all of my life at Chryslers, 33 years. Honor an agreement that was in place all the time that we worked that when I retired I would have a retirement for the rest of my life. And now I live with my stomach tied in knots, wondering how much of that is going to be taken away, while I watch bailouts go to AIG and the million-dollar babies that just can’t give theirs up because they have an agreement, but ours doesn’t mean anything. So, you live in fear, not knowing if we’ll have a check next month in our retirement. Now, I have a lot of respect for our new president. I think he has done tremendous. He’s done more in four months than we’ve had happen in the last eight years. But when you send an automotive task force to come out there who are composed of businessmen who do not know the automotive industry, nine out of ten of which are driving foreign products, and they’re here trying to help save this industry and protect jobs, I don’t see where that’s happened—protecting jobs, filing for bankruptcy, closing down plants. And we know that the corporations plan, they’ve had union-busting firms for the last 20 years in place in the plants. Their plan is to outsource these jobs, bring in product from foreign countries all over the world, any place where they can steal windfall labor profit at a dollar an hour, and bring it in here, and expect us to buy it. What I don’t understand is how do they expect the American people to buy it without a job, and where is their profit going to come from.

JUDY MCGREEVEY: My name is Judy McGreevey. I am the wife of the autoworker Bob McGreevey. And I have a little different feeling about what has been happening and what is going to happen. I don’t worry too much about me, because I figure I’m going to survive, no matter what happens to Bob and I. What I do worry about is my children and my grandchildren. I figure my grandchildren don’t have a prayer. And if things keep going as they have been going, they won’t have a job to go to. I have a six-year-old and a six-week-old grandchild, daughter and son. The six-week-old son, I would not face his future for anything in the world, because I don’t see that he has a future in this country the way the workers have been treated.