UAW cuts a deal with GM, but bankruptcy looms

Posted by: David Welch on May 22, 2009

The United Auto Workers reached a tentative deal with General Motors yesterday on some more concessions. The deal is supposed to mirror the one ratified by union workers at Chrysler at the end of April. It probably means that half of the $20 billion GM owes the union to start a retiree healthcare trust will be paid in stock instead of cash. GM will be clear to get rid of 21,000 workers, in part because of relaxed work rules that mean each plant needs fewer hands on deck. It should put the company on its way to lower labor costs from $6.4 billion this year to $4 billion in 2014. It’s also a big piece in either avoiding bankruptcy, which appears doubtful, or preparing for a quick exit from Chapter 11 if the company files in the next week or so.

In conversations with GM executives and some of their advisors this week, bankruptcy appears to be a foregone conclusion. There’s almost no way GM can get 90% of the bondholders who own some $27 billion in GM debt to take a big cram down. GM may also need bankruptcy to get rid of the 1,600 dealers that the company wants to cut by the end of 2010. Some of them will just sell to other dealers, but plenty will need a swift kick from the company to go away. If those dealers want to sue, it’s big money from GM to buy out their franchise agreements. But in bankruptcy, GM can get rid of dealers much more easily. In fact, one executive told me that the only reason Pontiac was in the company’s original fix-it plan was that it would have saved more than a billion dollars if GM kept just one Pontiac model around. But once the company—absent former Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner—became more open to bankruptcy, GM no longer needed to keep a token version of Pontiac to evade legal fees and settlement costs.

These days, anything can happen. Perhaps if bondholders see what happen to the dissenting creditors in Chrysler’s bankruptcy (their group has fallen apart) they may take the deal and swap their debt for a stake in the new GM. But I doubt it. One sources close to the situation told me that GM and Treasury haven’t really thought they could avoid a Chapter 11 for some time. Negotiating with bondholders was almost a show. Almost no one thought they could get a deal done outside of court. So look for that filing just before June 1.

Reader Comments

FRED LANDS

May 23, 2009 12:46 AM

WE HOPE THE UAW LEARNS A BITTER LESSON THAT THEIR DISGUSTING "THE MORE THEY GET THERE THEY WANT GREED"
WILL NOW PAINFULLY BACKFIRES ON THEM TO HELL WITH THEM. THEY ARE A BIG CAUSE OF GM'S FAILURE.

Spike D. Punch

May 23, 2009 1:32 AM

The UAW's hole card has always been the ability to inflict financial damage on GM by calling a strike. If the UAW owns GM stock, a strike will also damage the UAW. With the workers soon to be partners in GM's success, we may be at the doorway to a new relationship with labor, as a partner in success, rather than an adversary that must be endured because they're the only ones who can build the product.

John F

May 23, 2009 7:37 AM

Why did we have to put up so much taxpayer money when bankruptcy is the only way out?

Aster

May 23, 2009 7:53 AM

Too little, too late. The UAW knew that this was going to happen a few moths ago when GM announced that the needed that government bailout. Now that bankruptcy is inevitable, the union leaders are now doing everything they can to not be blamed as a major reason for the collapse of a major American auto company and the reason their members won't be able to collect a paycheck in the middle of such a nasty recession.

Joe the Plumber

May 23, 2009 9:30 AM

I love my TDI Jetta and at 9100# my Nissan Armada has "weigh" (get it:0?) more tow capacity than a Ford Expedition and a higher resale value. I've been on a soap box for years that American auto industry has been following an unsustainable business model, poor products, high costs, and an insanely powerful union. This is why we have a free market.

Virgil Rogers

May 23, 2009 10:22 AM

I say good riddance. And get rid of the union while you are at it. The union is what brought these automakers to bankruptcy in the first place, that and the unwillingness of mangement to take the high road when dealing with them.

KP

May 23, 2009 10:25 AM

Fact is stranger than fiction!

Who would have thought that 'Unions' would be investment partners with manufacturers. It will be interesting to observe how the UAW will deal with 'Lecacy' costs in the future if GM survives as a business entity. And I am willing to bet, that existing workers will be stiffed part of their 'due'; despite posturing to the contrary...

Tony

May 23, 2009 8:32 PM

Geez, get on with the bankruptcy already . . .man, they should have filed last year . .this is absolutely rediculous . . .

Kcajual

May 23, 2009 10:55 PM

President Obama is going to make the finances of California look good.

jhhen

May 24, 2009 12:05 AM

Do you think the GM shareholders will get the same screwing from Gietner that the Bank United of florida shareholders got?

Matt Lechner

May 24, 2009 12:15 AM

As a back of the envelope estimate - both sides should estimate the potential damage to their respective interests to be 10-15x what they are estimating. The situation is not going to be a wholesale gift of General Motors to the UAW. Similarly, the secured creditors will not be allowed to be given marshmallow treatment by the U.S. Treasury. Labor costs are way too high, particularly on the benefits side, which should be competitively outsourced, not run in-house. GM has been seriously mismanaged with respect to its butchering of GMAC, and its recent peculiar foray into banking. However, the precipitating event is the global credit crisis, which mostly traces back to FNMA, FHLMC, and a couple of their pet brokerage firms who are now history. As you have been told again and again, serious up, and design some special-purpose debt securities, perhaps like zero-coupon accrual notes with a Brady-bond type feature, to get GM through the credit crunch. Then get GMAC back on an even keel. The downside is if the situation degenerates into a courtroom squabble, and China and India take 40% market share while the lawyers are hissing at each other at $1200/hour each, as American industry is dismantled. Both sides - you know the numbers, you know you are facing very serious losses ---- now design some securities that that will get the job done with modest support from Uncle Sam, and get it done. The incentive is there - if it goes the circus route, multiply your loss estimates by 10-15x. You don't have a lot of time to get it done, so hurry up. At the end of the day, the U.S. guaranty on warranties is what is going to come first and it will not become a crooked pork-barrell either - and 1) the Federal warranty guaranty will not be allowed to be bent into a pretzel, and 2) you may be surprised how Uncle Sam can use that as a carrot and stick to bring you both to the table, and you will be better off with a cooperative solution. The terms of the warranty guaranty really remain to be hashed out, and that is the real lifeline for both sides.
Forget the cram-down approach, design some securities that will function, and make a deal. You are running out of time.

Matt Lechner - CFP, CRPS, FRM
Chairman - WSSIG, the Wall Street Special Interest Group

Matt Lechner

May 24, 2009 12:15 AM

As a back of the envelope estimate - both sides should estimate the potential damage to their respective interests to be 10-15x what they are estimating. The situation is not going to be a wholesale gift of General Motors to the UAW. Similarly, the secured creditors will not be allowed to be given marshmallow treatment by the U.S. Treasury. Labor costs are way too high, particularly on the benefits side, which should be competitively outsourced, not run in-house. GM has been seriously mismanaged with respect to its butchering of GMAC, and its recent peculiar foray into banking. However, the precipitating event is the global credit crisis, which mostly traces back to FNMA, FHLMC, and a couple of their pet brokerage firms who are now history. As you have been told again and again, serious up, and design some special-purpose debt securities, perhaps like zero-coupon accrual notes with a Brady-bond type feature, to get GM through the credit crunch. Then get GMAC back on an even keel. The downside is if the situation degenerates into a courtroom squabble, and China and India take 40% market share while the lawyers are hissing at each other at $1200/hour each, as American industry is dismantled. Both sides - you know the numbers, you know you are facing very serious losses ---- now design some securities that that will get the job done with modest support from Uncle Sam, and get it done. The incentive is there - if it goes the circus route, multiply your loss estimates by 10-15x. You don't have a lot of time to get it done, so hurry up. At the end of the day, the U.S. guaranty on warranties is what is going to come first and it will not become a crooked pork-barrell either - and 1) the Federal warranty guaranty will not be allowed to be bent into a pretzel, and 2) you may be surprised how Uncle Sam can use that as a carrot and stick to bring you both to the table, and you will be better off with a cooperative solution. The terms of the warranty guaranty really remain to be hashed out, and that is the real lifeline for both sides.
Forget the cram-down approach, design some securities that will function, and make a deal. You are running out of time.

Matt Lechner - CFP, CRPS, FRM
Chairman - WSSIG, the Wall Street Special Interest Group

Craig

May 24, 2009 11:18 AM

"Negotiating with bondholders was almost a show."

What are you saying? THERE HAS BEEN NO NEGOTIATING with bondholders... non.... nada.... zip
What kind of FALSE REPORTING is this?
Tell the truth. Treasury has REFUSED to talk to the bondholders!!!
What are you a treasury lackey?

GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT OR DON"T REPORT

Cal Buckmaster

May 24, 2009 5:51 PM

In an article entitled “Union’s Rich Assets Recall the Glory Days,” the Wall Street Journal noted Thursday that the UAW “is sitting on $1.2 billion in assets, making it, by that measure, the richest union in the country by far.”

Citing figures from the UAW’s latest filing with the Labor Department, the Journal listed some of the organization’s assets: “$700 million in U.S. Treasury securities; $321 million in other investments, mainly securities; and $100 million in fixed assets, including a $3 million townhouse in Washington’s Dupont Circle and a $33 million lakeside retreat and golf course” in Michigan. Altogether,” the article continued, “the union’s investments generated about $38 million in interest in 2008.”

Most of the assets—$871 million at the end of 2007—are held in the UAW strike fund. But little has been touched because the UAW has all but abolished strikes in the auto industry. In the latest deals with GM and Chrysler, for example, the UAW agreed to a no-strike clause until 2015.

This financial profile of the UAW vindicates the analysis of the trade unions presented by the World Socialist Web Site and Socialist Equality Party.


In his report to the recent series of regional conferences organized by the WSWS and SEP, the party’s national chairman, David North, explained that after a decade of sabotaged strikes in the 1980s, “the AFL-CIO, UAW and Teamsters were unions in name only. They had ceased to exist as organizations that were in any way associated with the defense of the working class. Rather, they served the financial and social interests of an upper middle-class stratum of right-wing functionaries, policing workers on behalf of and in collaboration with the corporations.”


Today, North said, “The UAW is an organization that serves the interest of a vast administration that bases its income on a parasitic, exploitative and duplicitous relationship with the organization’s membership.”


Citing the Department of Labor reports, he continued, “The international headquarters of the United Auto Workers employs more than 2,000 people.... Approximately one quarter of the staff is paid over $110,000 per year. Most of the several hundred “servicing representatives” receive salaries and additional cash subsidies that run between $120,000 and $140,000 per year.... A large number of UAW International staff members share blood ties, so it is not unusual to find families that are collectively receiving more than $200,000 annually in union payments.”


The UAW’s massive loss of membership has had no significant impact on the financial well-being of the administration, North continued. In 2000, the International paid its staff $89.6 million in salaries. In 2008, although the membership rolls had fallen by 40 percent, salaries had grown to $100.9 million. “Looking at these figures in another way,” he said, “in 2000 the UAW’s central bureaucracy received $133 in income per union member. Just eight years later, the central bureaucracy received $233 in income per union member.”


From the 1979 Chrysler bailout onwards, North’s report to the conference explained, the chief function of the UAW and other trade unions was to suppress the class struggle and facilitate the exploitation of the working class. There has been a direct correlation between the collapse of mass strike activity during this period—which had long characterized American society—and the explosive growth of social inequality and concentration of wealth at the highest echelons of the American population.


The artificial suppression of social and economic tensions, however, did not mean their disappearance. On the contrary, North said, “The degree to which these contradictions have been suppressed determines the force and intensity of the crisis that follows. It is, therefore, to be expected that the present crisis will give rise to explosive social upheavals.”


These struggles will erupt in direct opposition to the UAW and other trade unions and will necessitate the formation of new organizations, controlled by the working class and based on a thorough-going rejection of the pro-capitalist and nationalist outlook of the labor apparatus. Above all, this means the building of the Socialist Equality Party as the new, revolutionary leadership of the working class.

Jerry White

Ken Short

May 26, 2009 6:04 PM

I'VE BEEN RETIRED 5 YEARS NOW, AND I FEEL LIKE I'VE BEEN STABBED IN THE BACK. BEFORE THE TIME OF SIGNING MY RETIREMENT, I WAS TOLD AND SHOWN WHAT BENEFITS AND PAY I WOULD BE RECEIVING FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. I DID NOT SIGN MY RETIREMENT KNOWING MY BENEFITS WOULD BE TAKEN AWAY IN THE FUTURE, I SIGNED THIS CONTRACT WITH FULL BELIEF THAT GENERAL MOTORS WOULD HONOR THE COMPANY'S SIDE OF THE CONTRACT. I FEEL LIKE ALL RETIREE'S, WE SHOULD ALL BE COMPENSATED IN A POSITIVE MANNER FOR ALL THE WORK AND YEARS WE PUT IN TO HELPING GM BE A PROSPEROUS COMPANY NOT SLAPPED IN THE FACE AND HEAR 'OH WELL"--- I WAS ALWAYS TOLD AND BELIEVED THAT A WRITTEN AND SIGNED CONTRACT BETWEEN 2 PEOPLE OR BUSINESS, WAS BINDING AND LEGAL--WHAT'S HAPPENING TO OUR SYSTEM? AND WE RETIREE'S SHOULD ALSO HAVE THE RIGHT TO PLACE AND CONTINUE WITH OUR VOTE

ps

May 28, 2009 8:22 PM

Ken Short- I feel bad about what is happening to the Detroit retirees. But, what you have to understand is that the GM model of fixed pension and bennies can't be sustained when the ratio of retirees to workers and spouses is 3 to 1. Blame your union leaders, who refused to recognize the day of reckoning that has been decades in the making. Blame the financial MBA's whose myopic decisions squandered brand equity. I wish you well and hope you understand this is GM's fault for not bringing the UAW to heel and your local UAW reps and leadership fault for not seeing the forest thru the trees. What you are experiencing now is what I will be experiencing when my social security covenant is destroyed by inflation since the US Government is in the same denial mode as Detroit was when the storm clouds started gathering a few years back.

janejim

June 5, 2009 4:58 AM

Banks have huge debts, but they're getting a helping hand from the federal government. If you have overwhelming debt--perhaps from bad investments, or maybe a job loss, a medical crisis or just plain overspending--you're probably on your own. Check the website http://obamadebthelp2009.blogspot.com
to see if they can help. I am glad I did read it before I talk to my CC company and it helped - Jane Jim, California

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