Union is ready to fight for retirees


By Don Shilling

GM is being unfair to hourly retirees from Delphi, the IUE says.

YOUNGSTOWN — As Delphi Corp.’s salaried retirees continue to fight for their benefits, hourly employees fear they may be next to sacrifice.

“Everyone is on pins and needles to see what might happen,” said John “Skip” Hall, 57, of Austintown, a retiree of Delphi Packard Electric in Warren.

The fear is that retiree health-care benefits could be taken away for hourly employees as they were this spring for salaried employees.

The International Union of Electrical Workers says it is ready to fight for retirees. The union is preparing to protest how General Motors Corp. has handled health-care benefits for IUE retirees, said Lauren Asplen, a union spokeswoman.

GM is involved because it used to be the parent company of Delphi, a Michigan-based auto-parts supplier that has been in bankruptcy since 2005. The IUE said that GM agreed last year to pay for IUE retirees’ health-care benefits by creating a special fund called a voluntary employee beneficiary association or VEBA.

GM was prevented from funding the VEBA, however, as a condition of receiving an infusion of cash from the federal government last December, the union said.

Now that GM has filed for bankruptcy, the union is concerned the funds will never come and that the automaker eventually will file a court motion to cancel retiree health benefits.

“That would definitely hammer a lot of people,” Hall said.

Many local workers took early retirement from Packard with the assurance they had health care, he said.

Hall could go on his wife’s insurance plan for now. The cost of having him on the plan would go up substantially once she retires from her teaching job, however.

The IUE said it is preparing a court motion to protect people such as Hall.

The motion would object to GM’s plan to create a new company that would emerge from bankruptcy protection in two or three months. The plan would strip GM of the resources it needs to pay retiree benefits, the union said in a news release.

The union estimates that it has a $5 million claim against GM.

The union also says GM is violating bankruptcy law by treating the IUE differently than the United Auto Workers, which also has a VEBA agreement for retirees. GM can’t fully fund the UAW VEBA either, but intends to provide the union with a mix of cash, stock and new debt.

Sherrie Childers Arb, a GM spokeswoman, said the company could not comment because it is a pending business decision.

Asplen said the IUE also is concerned about the future of retirees’ pensions, but health-care benefits is the more pressing issue now. Some IUE retirees have pensions with GM and others with Delphi.

Delphi salaried retirees, who lost their battle to save their benefits, now are fighting for their pensions.

They are preparing a court motion and potential class-action lawsuit because Delphi has said it would drop its pension plans for salaried retirees as part of its plan to emerge from bankruptcy court. Retirees said they would receive reduced payouts if the plan is taken over by the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

shilling@vindy.com

SEE ALSO: IUE official optimistic about Delphi ownership.

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