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April, 2006

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Auto retirees must step up more to defend health care benefits


On March 6, a second hearing was held to determine if GM can take away a portion of retirees' health care benefits. Unfortunately, only a relatively few retirees officially objected by the Feb. 13 deadline set by the judge. (Most were unaware of such a deadline.) Consequently, even fewer attended the March 6 hearing and even fewer spoke against the theft of these contractual benefits. What's amazing to us is the unprecedented betrayal of the retirees by the UAW, who is joining with GM in this court action (to uphold the new agreement) to help separate the retirees from their earned benefits. The UAW even bussed in some retirees that were alleged to be supporting the taking of their meager benefits while the GM executives make millions per year plus millions in their private pension coffers. One women left the hearing crying and denouncing the takeaways and another threw her "UAW UNITY" sticker they were given on to the sidewalk.

The attorneys for GM argued that since there were so few retirees present that the judge should rule to take the Benefits because most retirees must support it because of their absence. One speaker argued that many retirees are older or ill or live too far away.

We realize that many retirees are apathetic but many more don't realize the depth and the long range effects of these cuts.

If the GM attorneys' arguments stand that not JUSTICE but the numbers in the courtroom is the deciding factor, then it's obvious that we retirees will have to take more of a role than we already have, not only with respect to health care, but our pensions as well. We cannot leave it up to someone else like many of us did when we were in the plants. All we have to do is be present and that will give others more incentive to join in and to be victorious!

At the hearing, some people spoke about the hardships the Takeaways would cause. Some spoke about how money wasted by GM could fix GM finances. Some fear that GM could waste the Retiree Health Care money (now diverted to a Trust) and come back and take even more. "Once the bear has tasted the Honey that was stored by the worker bees, he's going to come back and take more until it's gone,"

The attorney for the retirees, Mark Baumkel, called the takebacks "diabolical." Some asked if they could get their job back if GM is allowed to break the contract. One retiree said that if GM does this takeaway, she will never buy another GM car.

Bottom Line -- Retirees are going to have to get a little more involved to save their benefits, because this is NOT OVER.

This article originated in the People's Tribune
PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654, 773-486-3551, info@peoplestribune.org.
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