DETROIT (Reuters) - Auto workers held a small but passionate rally on Sunday outside a big auto industry show to protest labor concessions the Bush administration has demanded in return for recent rescue loans for General Motors Corp and Chrysler LLC.
“The concessions that Bush wants us to make are just a slap in our faces,” said Tammy Jones, a furnace worker at Chrysler’s Hamtramck axle plant in Detroit. “People fought and died for our rights and we must fight to keep them.”
The $17.4 billion federal bailout of GM and Chrysler announced in December includes concessions aimed at the United Auto Workers union, including requiring company contributions to a retiree health-care trust to be partly stock rather than cash, making UAW wages and benefits competitive with foreign carmakers’ U.S. plants by December 2009, and eliminating the jobs bank, in which idled workers receive pay and benefits.
“We have to maintain our wages, maintain our jobs and maintain our benefits,” said Brian Moore, a safety trainer at GM’s pickup truck plant in the Detroit suburb of Pontiac. “That’s supposed to be the American way.”
GM and Chrysler — which is controlled by private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP — have received $4 billion each from the U.S. Treasury and GM has been promised another $9.4 billion.
The group of some 50 or more workers marched up and down outside the conference center in chilly but sunny weather in downtown Detroit where the auto show was being held on Sunday. They chanted slogans such as “Bush says cut back, we say fight back” and holding signs including “No millionaire left behind” and “Out of a job yet? Keep buying foreign.”
“I’m here because I am sick of Bush and his fellow money Nazis in Congress shipping our jobs overseas,” said Ken Good, a retired GM auto worker who was wearing a large sign that read “Import our exported jobs.”
“I’m worried about my retirement benefits and I’m totally against any further concessions by auto workers,” he said.
The UAW, which made landmark givebacks on wages and health benefits in its 2007 negotiations with the companies, has called the conditions attached to the loans unfair and promised to work with the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama to have them removed from the loan agreements.
Phillip Bailey, an unemployed health-care worker who said he had come to the rally to support the auto workers, said he had heard complaints from UAW members about new concessions.
“A lot of the members of the union that I’ve met are angry at the government, the management of the auto companies and their own union leadership,” Bailey said. “There are plenty of workers who are tired of watching the leaders of the UAW roll over on important issues,”
U.S. auto sales dropped 18 percent in 2008, pushing both GM and Chrysler to the brink of collapse. Ford Motor Co the third U.S. automaker, has not sought federal loans but has asked for a $9 billion credit line it could tap if conditions worsen.
Editing by Peter Bohan and Maureen Bavdek