Mitt Advocates Taking Healthcare from Retirees to Give Money to Bailed Out Banks

Someone gave Mitt Romney a shovel just in time to dig shit snow in MI for the next two weeks. There’s a lot that is fact-impaired in this op-ed doubling down on the “let GM go bankrupt” (starting with the lack of funding for a bankruptcy, meaning a managed bankruptcy was impossible).

By the spring of 2009, instead of the free market doing what it does best, we got a major taste of crony capitalism, Obama-style.

Thus, the outcome of the managed bankruptcy proceedings was dictated by the terms of the bailout. Chrysler’s “secured creditors,” who in the normal course of affairs should have been first in line for compensation, were given short shrift, while at the same time, the UAWs’ union-boss-controlled trust fund received a 55 percent stake in the firm.

He’s complaining, of course, that VEBA (the trust fund run by professionals that allowed the auto companies to spin off contractual obligations–retiree healthcare–to the unions) got a stake in Chrysler while Chrysler’s secured creditors took a haircut.

So, in part, he’s basically complaining that the bailout preserved the healthcare a bunch of 55+ year old blue collar workers were promised. He’s pissed they got to keep their healthcare.

He’s also complaining that banks took a haircut, as would happen in any managed bankruptcy.

But it’s more than that. He’s complaining that a bunch of banks that themselves had been bailed out had to take a haircut. He’s complaining, for example, that JP Morgan Chase, Chrysler’s largest creditor at the time and the recipient, itself, of $68.6B in bailout loans, had to take a haircut on $2B in loans to Chrysler.

Mitt’s op-ed makes him sound a lot like Jimmy Lee, Chase’s top negotiator on the auto bailout, who,

demanded to know why, if the government thought banks important enough to give them tens of billions in TARP money, it wanted to squeeze them on [the Chrysler] deal.

I guess Mitt, too, thinks the banks are so important they should take precedence over retiree healthcare, too.

But as the kind of bankster who, at Bain, relied on government subsidies to fund his “restructurings” that ended up taking people’s jobs and healthcare, that’s not all that surprising.

Still, the UAW retirees who still have healthcare today instead of Jamie Dimon having another yacht probably don’t feel the same way as Mitt does.

UAW: A Seat at the Table

There’s always a lot of tut-tutting when the White House releases the list of people who attend a state dinner. While a lot of that, for the dinner honoring Hu Jintao tonight, has to do with which members of Congress have blown off invites (John Boehner, Harry Reid, and Mitch McConnell, though McConnell’s wife Elaine Chao will attend with her father), I’m rather interested in who will attend from the auto industry.

Not Ford’s CEO Alan Mullaly, who has been working with manufacturers that export to China for years. Not Dan Akerson, who is CEO of that auto company that American taxpayers own that does a great deal of business in China (our investment in GM might be incredibly well-served to give GM this kind of access).

But Bob King, the head of the UAW.

Now, maybe I should be happy that UAW’s head gets a seat at the table with the leader of the country his union has lost so many jobs to.

But I can’t help but remember the transactional language King used to talk about his support for the Administration’s KORUS deal.

King countered that the deal was not perfect; there were many things he objected to about the agreement. However, King added that, “It was important to endorse in order to reward the administration for its good behavior of including labor in negotiations.”


When I asked King why the UAW decided to endorse the treaty without consulting others unions he said, “We were on a tight deadline to endorse. If we wanted to be relevant, we needed to weigh in right away with an endorsement.”

Back then, it sure sounded like King was happy to sell out workers in exchange for 800 jobs and a seat at the table. But now I’m wondering whether King got a literal seat at the table.

The Next Anti-Union Myth: Obama Gave Them Chrysler

Prepare to see lots more stories like this one–stories that suggest Obama, out of whatever good intentions, decided to "give" the UAW Chrysler even while he deprived banks of their rightful return on debt.

Regardless of its literary influences [in Machiavelli], the Obama administration’s decision to give unions a big stake in the ailing Chrysler while strong-arming banks into forgiving a huge portion of debt is a sign of the times.

A nearly bust carmaker, several lenders that owe the government billions of dollars (and, in some cases, their survival) and an interventionist president eager to be seen to be tackling the nation’s economic ills: welcome to the United States of America 2009.

I have heard the arguments supporting the decision to short-change debt holders and carve out Chrysler between the unions (which get 55 per cent but just one board seat), Fiat (up to 35 per cent and three board seats) and the government (most of the rest of the equity and four board seats).

They boil down to this: extraordinary times require extraordinary measures (the end justifies the means, if you like).

In other words, with Chrysler employing more than 50,000 people in the US and Canada, it was paramount to avoid a long bankruptcy that would have destroyed the company.

If that meant giving junior creditors such as the unions favourable treatment at the expense of senior debt-holders, so be it. As for those hedge funds that rejected the plan, they are nothing but “speculators” according to Mr Obama.

Absolutely critical to the myth of the poor little hedge funds being strong-armed by the evil union and the interventionist President is the conflation of "the union" with VEBA, the fund to provide retiree health care that is controlled by the union to which Chrysler actually owes the money. I know it makes Financial Times readers lash out to hear of an evil union budging ahead of productive hedge funds, but in truth this was a matter of dealing with Chrysler’s biggest creditors–whether it be JP Morgan Chase or a fund run by a union–and not a matter of class warfare. 

Now to be fair, there is a germ of truth in this article: the poor little hedge funds purportedly being strong-armed by the union do hold debt that takes precedence over the VEBA fund. In relative terms, a tiny bit of it. Read more

Democrats Trying to Reverse Bush's Attempt to Dismantle UAW by Fiat

I’ve been meaning to catch you all up on the impact of the auto rescue on the UAW. But I really shouldn’t bother, as the likely impact has changed from day to day over the last several.

On Thursday, GM’s Rick Wagoner announced that it could reach the mandated goals without touching retiree pensions.

GM can continue to operate without cutting benefits to retirees, Wagoner said.

Of course, retirees wouldn’t be safe so long as the goal was to bring the lizard lie number (the number that compares UAW wages plus legacy costs with Japanese wages and their negligible legacy costs) to parity. But the UAW’s Gettelfinger and Wagoner now agree that the lizard lie number is just that.

Payroll and legacy costs have been a source of some criticism for GM and the UAW. Both Wagoner and Gettelfinger agreed that the labor compensation comparisons between GM and foreign automakers are not necessarily accurate.

It would have been nice had that point been made more forcefully back during negotiations.

Next up, on Friday, we learned that Bush’s auto "rescue" prohibits unions from striking over the course of the loan.

An extraordinary new wrinkle in the federal loans to Detroit’s automakers became clear Thursday from the fine print:

A UAW strike could derail the rescue effort.

The U.S. Treasury Department could declare General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC in default of their $17.4 billion in loans and demand the money back, according to pacts signed with the Bush administration last month.

Although the impact — and even the legality — of such a provision is not clear, the details of the pact highlight the complications facing the union, which must agree to make sweeping changes in wages and benefits for workers by Feb. 17.

I can’t help but imagine that Bush snuck that in the loan terms not just to break the union, but also to get one final shot at SCOTUS’ Youngstown decision. 

And remember when people argued I was crazy for arguing that the overriding purpose of the plan was to break the UAW? Isn’t that just hilarious in retrospect?

Finally, today, we learn that Barney Frank is hard at work trying to negate Bush’s last attempt to dismantle a major union by Presidential fiat.

Concessions forced on the UAW could be stripped from a $17.4-billion auto industry rescue plan, Read more

What the AP Left Out about the UAW

The AP has an article reporting that Ron Gettelfinger, head of the UAW, says the union will not make any more concessions to keep the Big Three in business. I guess the editor cut a big chunk–because the article obviously falls short of explaining why the UAW is taking this stand. Here’s what the AP left in:

”The focus has to be on the economy as a whole as opposed to a UAW contract,” Gettelfinger told reporters on a conference call, noting the labor costs now make up 8 percent to 10 percent of the cost of a vehicle.

”We have made dramatic, dramatic changes and the UAW was applauded for that,” he said.

Instead, Gettelfinger blamed the problems the auto industry is suffering from on things beyond its control — the housing slump, the credit crunch that has made financing a vehicle tough and the 1.2 million jobs that have been lost in the past year.

”We’re here not because of what the auto industry has done,” he said. ”We’re here because of what has happened to the economy.”

And here’s what the AP didn’t report (I’m sure it was just an oversight, really).

In its contract last year, the UAW made painful concessions, adopting a two-tier wage structure, such that new employees make just $12 to $15 an hour. The move is projected to bring the American manufacturers in line with their Japanese rivals’ non-union labor costs in the near future.

In addition, the union has taken responsibility for providing retiree healthcare, thereby eliminating one of the last remaining competitive disadvantages for the American manufacturers’ unionized workforce as compared to their Japanese rivals.

With these agreements, the UAW has managed to save jobs, while still providing the superior labor force that leads most segments (big PDF, see page 10-11) in terms of the most efficient plants measured in hours per vehicle.

The UAW’s workers have made deep concessions to ensure American-owned auto industry remains competitive with its foreign competitors. Now that the American-owned manufacturers have eliminated some of the structural disadvantages that gave foreign competitors a market advantage, it would be a terrible waste for its country not to do what’s necessary to sustain American manufacturing though this tough financial period.

There. Now it tells a more complete story.