A year ago yesterday, we ran an editorial calling on former Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams, then the executive director of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, to right a wrong that had been set in motion three years earlier.
Williams is no longer the “auto czar.” He moved on to a job as deputy director in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. But the injustice we were writing about still exists, that is the short-changing of one employee group in the 2009 bankruptcy of General Motors.
Some won, some lost
The restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler saved the American automobile industry from disaster and saved tens of thousands of jobs. The Obama administration also preserved the pension, ancillary pensions and health benefits of tens of thousands of members of the UAW, the IUE and even the USW.
Workers left conspicuously out in the cold were the salaried employees of Delphi, who numbered about 21,000. Many lost 50 to 70 percent of their expected pensions and their health coverage. Among those were Delphi workers who had been employed at the Packard Electric Division of General Motors, which had been headquartered in Warren before the Delphi spin-off.
The benefits of those workers may be gone, but their plight has not been forgotten. It can only be hoped that now — four years after they were treated as second-class citizens in the restructuring, they will be treated with equity.
Two recent developments toward that end are worth mentioning.
Last week, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, took the opportunity to submit some pointed questions about how the Delphi salaried retirees were treated to the Senate Finance Committee which is considering the nomination of Jacob Lew to serve as Treasury Secretary. He suggested that Lew be asked if the Treasury Department received any communication, direction, or other influence from the White House on Delphi pensions. He also asked if any official at the Treasury Department communicated with GM to influence the company toward supporting Delphi hourly pensions, or against supporting salaried pensions. And finally he asked if the Treasury Department intends to fully comply with requests from the House Ways and Means Committee for records related to the Delphi employees.
While it is true that Portman is a Republican questioning the action of a Democratic administration, the plight of the Delphi salaried retirees is a bipartisan concern, as it should be.
Just a week earlier, U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, a Dayton Republican, and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, Niles Democrat, announced that they would co-chair the Auto Industry Pension Task Force for the 113th Congress. It is an informal group of members focused on issues related to the termination of Delphi salaried retiree pensions and on educating other congressmen on the subject.
“The Delphi salaried retirees for too long have been denied the answers and resolution to the issue of their pensions being unjustly slashed,” Turner said. Ryan said the goal of the task force “will be to build a coalition of members that will help us ensure that the Delphi retirees can continue their retirement knowing that they will have the benefits promised to them while they were working.”
As we said at this time last year, action is long overdue. It is an issue of obvious interest to the retirees, but the Mahoning Valley has an economic interest as well. Restoring full pension benefits to the Delphi retirees would infuse an estimated $58 million in lost economic activity to the area.
Success in addressing the Delphi inequities by Ryan, Turner, Portman, Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and the entire Ohio delegation would provide justice for the retirees and a boost to the state’s economy.