Republican Reps. Mike Turner of Ohio and Dan Burton of Indiana are asking House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, California Republican, to dig into the Obama administration’s decision to cut more than 20,000 private-sector workers’ pensions and eliminate their health and life insurance plans during the General Motors (GM) bailout in 2009.
A spokesman for Issa’s committee told The Daily Caller the committee “remains interested” and is “looking forward” to findings from an ongoing Government Accountability Office investigation, which is expected to come out within the next couple of months. What Turner and Burton are saying happened during the GM bailout is that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner decided to cut pensions for salaried non-union employees at Delphi, a GM spinoff, to expedite GM’s emergence from bankruptcy. The problem with that, according to the congressmen, is that Geithner decided to fully fund the pensions of union workers involved in the process – including workers associated with United Auto Workers, Steelworkers and the IUE-CWA.
“This is a terrible injustice. This is a political decision, not a legal or financial decision,” Turner said in a phone interview with TheDC. “There were people who were penalized and people were chosen as winners and losers. The White House, the administration and the Auto Task Force (ATF) decided who were going to receive their pensions and who were not.”
Bruce Gump, one of the workers who lost most of his pension and his health and life insurance plans, said what really disappoints him is how Geithner justified his decision. “Mr. Geithner justified that by saying in the press that there was no commercial necessity to do anything for those people,” Gump told TheDC. “So, to him, we were just ‘those people’ and he thought that commercial necessity was a justification to out certain groups.”
According to a time-line provided by the Delphi Salaried Retiree Association (DSRA), a group several of the disgruntled employees formed to try to get their benefits back, it was the U.S. government’s involvement in bailing out GM that caused them to lose their benefits. Also, the DSRA points out that UAW workers’ “pensions were topped off in unprecedented action under direction of ATF without any union contractual obligation.”
Turner said he wants to know “what conference room in the administration were people sitting around the table deciding who was going to win and lose,” and expects to get another opportunity to question Geithner in a formal setting on how and why he made those decisions. Turner said he’s asked Geithner about it before in previous hearings, but was never able to get an answer out of him.
“He said ‘this is a matter that’s under litigation,’ and he can’t comment. But, just because it’s under litigation doesn’t mean he can’t comment. This is the taxpayers’ dollars,” Turner said. “This is public record. This is governmental policy and he needs to step forward. Now, it might be an inconvenience for him to answer some of these questions considering the fact that he’s being sued, but it’s certainly something where he needs to be held accountable and answer these questions. This is government. This stuff should not be done in secret.”
Turner also said it’s clear to him union workers got special treatment when the Obama administration bailed out GM, and he wants that wrong righted. He said the Delphi workers should get their full pensions and benefits back too, just like the workers associated with the UAW and other unions.
“The unions got completely made whole,” Turner said. “It’s not even as if they took a hit and others took a larger hit, they [unions] took no hit and some of these people [non-union workers] are losing their pensions up to 70 percent. It’s outrageous and we need to get to the bottom of how this decision was made.”
Gump and his colleagues who lost their benefits because of Geithner just want to know why he thought union workers were more important than non-union employees were.
“It’s just wrong for the government to use ‘commercial necessity,’ their perception of commercial necessity by the way, to do much of anything other than buying pencils and paper,” Gump said. “People are not commodities, you know. We’re all citizens with the same rights.”