Walking Bull’s-Eyes

By Doug Hanscom (United Auto Workers Local 435)

The latest round of attrition packages, or early retirement and buy-out packages, are on the table throughout the corporation. General Motors has upped the ante from $35,000 to $45,000 for those eligible to retire now, special provisions for those eligible within the next four years, with benefits and pensions, $70,000 for those with less than ten years of service who agree to cut all ties, and $140,000 for those with ten to twenty five years seniority if they agree to cut all ties except vested pensions. According to a recent Detroit Free Press article, GM would like those interested in a package to be gone by July 1.

This is the fourth early retirement and buy-out offer since my former employer, GM Baltimore, announced it will permanently close its door on May 13, 2005. I could have taken any of the previous early retirement offers, or the current one, but my reasons for not doing so are personal; however, I will offer these few insights. I’ve had to transfer four times to acquire 31.5 years of seniority; and not once did I get the big money to transfer. GM’s relocation allowance wasn’t available in the early eighties when I moved from the shuttered bearing plant in Bristol, CT to the assembly plant in Framingham, MA. And all I got when that plant closed in the late eighties was enough to pay the first and last month’s rent with enough left over to rent a U-Haul when I relocated to the Baltimore, MD assembly plant. Then a hundred and fifty of my coworkers and I got screwed out of relocation allowances when we were forced to the Wilmington, DE assembly plant in August of ’06. I’m only 55; so I would have to get a part time job to make ends meet since my income will be instantly reduced by almost two thirds. The way I see it is, if I have to work for anything less than $15.00 an hour to supplement my retirement, I’d be better off staying right where I am making $28.00 an hour, duh. So no, I am not taking a retirement package. “I’m going down with the ship,” as they say.

This is just my story; there are literally hundreds of similar, or more dramatic or horrific stories in the Wilmington plant, and thousands of others throughout the corporation that autoworkers are faced with when considering their options to walk away with cash in hand. Another Free Press article touted the successes of a few autoworkers who took previous early retirement or buy-out packages. I say good for them, but like Todd Jordan of website recently said, “For every positive story the press writes about, there are ten negative ones.”

The most perplexing is the feeling of remorse we’ve been hearing so much about lately from those who took the early retirement packages. Some didn’t anticipate the escalating out of pocket expenses of their health care benefits, or that their pension checks wouldn’t be as adequate as they had hoped; or a part time job fell through; or they were hit with an expensive home or car repair; or they find themselves taking on the added expense of raising grandchildren; or a son or daughter unexpectedly returns home; or they hadn’t anticipated the effects the sub prime mortgage crises would have on the economy; or how rising fuel prices would effect the cost of everything under the sun.

These are just some of the very real and scary stories that have us contemplating our options. We don’t want to end up regretting we retired too soon too, and then end up beating on GM’s door a couple months later demanding our jobs back.

Over the last few years, and with the UAW’s International Executive Board’s (IEB) approval, GM eliminated a majority of the good jobs senior members looked forward to in their waning years. Now they’re forced to work the assembly line their entire careers. Also with the IEB’s approval, the majority of the line jobs are so overworked everyone, even lower seniority workers, go home feeling beat up at the end of the shift. With this latest attrition round it becomes obvious that GM and the IEB’s intent is to work us to death in an effort to force all of us into accepting one of the attrition packages.

Pressure on all employees, especially on seniors to retire or take an early retirement package is a bit more intense during this round than it was in the previous rounds. In the Wilmington plant for instance, the third shift is expected to be eliminated at the end of March due to lack-luster sales, which means between 400 and 600 employees will be laid off. Rumors immediately began to circulate that if enough senior employees took the early retirements, no one would be laid off, thus union officials and their management counterparts, who I believe are behind the rumors, perpetuate an atmosphere of disdain and loathing between employees, a tool they’ve successfully used to manipulate and control the workforce for over twenty years.

Every union member throughout the corporation is now a walking target, especially those eligible to retire, or accept early retirement packages. Some low seniority workers and some in management are making off the cuff remarks about senior members in front of others in an effort to embarrass or humiliate them into accepting a package.

This reminds me of a line I recently heard during the presidential campaigns, I don’t know who said it but it goes, “You will not embarrass or humiliate me without my permission.” In other words, I will retire when I’m damn good and ready, and not because of something someone says or does. What low seniority workers and those in management need to remember is that the target will shift to them eventually. Once GM’s done attacking all union workers’ wages and benefits, they’ll set their sights on their own, but stop short of those who should be targeted, the ones responsible for mismanaging GM.

So now the question is, should we stay and tough it out or leave with cash in hand while the getting is good? Rumors abound that this buy-out offer is the last one, but that’s what was said about previous offers, and if it is the last one, oh well. My guess is if GM doesn’t get the numbers it wants during this round, which is at least half of its workforce, another offer will come along. I believe GM will take a chapter out of Steve “The Hatchet” Miller’s phony bankruptcy playbook and continue to offer retirement and buy-out packages until new hire second-tier workers out number first-tier senior workers. Then like the mass rape The Hatchet orchestrated at Delphi, GM will pit new hires against those who are left in the 2011 round of contract negotiations, if not sooner, which will ultimately reduce all workers’wages and benefits to second-tier status.

UAW President Gettelfinger and his IEB henchmen sanctioned the rape at Delphi, and now this attempted wholesale rape of its entire membership by their Joint Corporate Partners throughout the auto industry. Gettelfinger and his Partners claim members are willing participants and therefore not raped because they ratified this agreement, but truth be told, the membership isn’t allowed to monitor ratification vote results like local elections, which casts a cloud of suspicion on all agreements entered into by the IEB and the Corporations since the early eighties when Joint Partnerships were formed.

The recent strike at American Axel Manufacturing is another example of a profitable corporation with its hand out demanding the IEB give them the same deal they gave GM, Ford and Chrysler. The IEB opened this can of worms and now everybody wants a piece. It won’t end until all autoworkers are Delphied and can’t afford the products we make. It would be in all of our own best interest to tell GM to take this offer and shove it. If the corporations are serious about buying us out then they had better up the ante a whole lot more than what is on the table now. They can afford it. All they’d have to do is stop investing the billions we’ve earned them overseas and cut exuberant executive salaries here at home.

Gettelfinger and the IEB should be charged with treason for partnering with the corporations and sanctioning the rape of its own membership, but the likelihood of that happening shrinks with each round of buy-outs that eliminate more and more first-tier workers. The membership needs to take a stand and stop targeting each other and instead set their sights on the traitors in Solidarity House who are selling us out. If we do nothing, we could end up like Bethlehem Steel workers who’ve lost everything and now find themselves working for Wal-Mart wages for the rest of their lives.

—Disgruntled Autoworker # 49

Future of the Union, March 19, 2008