By DON SHILLING
VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR
WARREN — Cheryl Click and Marilyn Thomas usually aren’t ones to join causes, but the Delphi Packard Electric retirees are ready to jump into the fight to save their pensions and health care.
They and about 1,000 other retirees were pumped up at a rally Wednesday at the Warren Amphitheatre.
The women said they are ready to call politicians, join a mass protest or do whatever is needed. Both women are single and are concerned about losing their homes and living without health-care insurance.
“It’s depressing. Where am I going to live? A shelter?” said Thomas, 61, of Bazetta Township, who retired in 2006 after 38 years at Packard.
Click, 60, of Champion Township said her family tells her they can see the worry on her face.
“I don’t sleep at night, and this is the first thing I think about when I get up in the morning,” said Click, who retired in 2006 after 39 years.
Current and former union officials who led the rally told retirees there is still hope that they can retain their health care and full pensions.
Pressure has to be applied at the right place, however, and that is on the federal government, said Don Arbogast, former shop chairman of Local 717 of the International Union of Electrical Workers.
Arbogast said General Motors, the former parent of Delphi, tried to live up to its commitment to fund the health care for IUE retirees. It was going to place $1 billion into a trust fund for the retirees this past spring but was stopped by the U.S. Treasury Department, he said.
The federal government, which owns 60 percent of GM after its bankruptcy, does not want GM to pay anything to IUE retirees because GM no longer has any plants that are represented by that union, he said.
Arbogast urged the retirees to call local, state and federal politicians to ask for help in changing the mind of federal officials.
He also asked the retirees to call their doctors to enlist their support. If the health care is lost, the Mahoning Valley will have thousands of residents who suddenly become uninsured, he said.
Chuck Church, a former Local 717 union leader, urged retirees to sign up so they can be contacted for mass protests. They could be scheduled quickly anywhere in the country, he said.
Bob Sutton, an IUE staff representative, said the union and officials from the “old GM” have been negotiating on health care for the retirees for the past five days. The old GM is the entity that was left in bankruptcy court with the assets that GM no longer wants.
For now, health care remains in place, Sutton said.
“As long as we continue to talk, we continue to have health care, and I hope we talk for a long time,” he said.
As for pensions, Sutton said anyone who retired from Delphi before 2000 is considered a GM retiree and will have a full pension. Those who retired in 2000 or later are likely to have their pensions reduced by more than 50 percent if they are under 65, he said.
The federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. has started the process of taking over Delphi’s pension plan, which will take several months.
Arbogast said the key to preventing the pension takeover and the health-care cuts is finding allies who will pressure President Obama and federal officials.
“You don’t win a war by creating more enemies. You win a war by creating more friends,” he said.
Among the allies will be other unions, he said.
Jim Graham, president of United Auto Workers Local 1112 in Lordstown, spoke at the rally and promised his support.