The GM Bailout Gets Personal

A recent series on Michigan Public Radio reminds us that General Motors – a company many would like to see go bankrupt – is made up of people whose dreams could turn to nightmares.

Talking Heads

Up on Capitol Hill this week, it’s been all about the big boys. Rick Wagoner, Bob Nardelli and Alan Mulally all flew in on their corporate jets to try and convince a skeptical congress to shell out $25 billion as part of a “bridge” loan to help automakers weather the current financial storm. And whether or not Congress ends up bailing out the industry in some form or other, this week’s drama was ultimately played out between senators, representatives and the heads of corporations. But as is usually the case, behind the big story are countless smaller ones.

Dave and Alicia

Dustin Dwyer, a reporter for Michigan Public Radio, chose to go after one of those smaller stories and he ended up in Clarkston, Michigan, a town located about 40 miles north of downtown Detroit.

It was here that he sat down to talk with Dave and Alicia Anderson. Dave recently took a buy-out from GM where he worked as a union carpenter for 31 years. Even though she worked in the health care industry, Alicia was laid off in August and has been unable to find another job. Both of them, as well as their 2 children, currently depend on Dave’s pension and health care benefits. If GM fails, either or both of those sources could be in jeopardy.


I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no fan of unions. As far as I’m concerned, they outgrew their usefulness as soon as World War II broke out. It may be because my family was never a union one. Growing up in the Detroit area, I was always amazed at the kind of money a line worker made at one of the auto companies. When you combined their wages and benefits, it seemed almost obscene. The summer in college that I worked for one of the auto companies and belonged to the UAW, I earned more than my father for the 4 months that I worked there. I say this to put some kind of perspective on this story.

Back to the story

In any case, Dave Anderson admits that there were years when he worked a lot of overtime that he made money that would’ve made a lawyer proud. He made this money by building offices for GM around Detroit. Later on, when things got tough, his job was to help tear down the offices the company vacated. This past year, he took $62,000 offered by GM as a buyout and retired.

Where do we go from here?

There are undoubtedly thousands of ex-GM employees like Dave and his family not only in Michigan (where a good portion are), but in many areas around the country. For them, as well as for all other retirees, currently employees, car dealers and their employees and their families and for all the suppliers, their employees and their families and all the other businesses that depend on all these people for their support, the current debate in Congress is not just between the talking heads; it’s personal.

Posted on November 20, 2008 by in Uncategorized
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