Just before our Veteran's Day ceremonies at work on Friday night (no, we don't get Veteran's Day off until they Monday after) I was handed of the following from the UAW Newswire (I will put a link to the page at the end of this):
"Next week the House may take up a dangerous pension bill (H.R. 2830) crafted by House GOP leaders and the Bush administration. This legislation could force GM, Ford, DaimlerChrysler and other companies to freeze all pension credits and/or prohibit any further benefit improvements.
Please call your Representative toll free: 1-888-355-3588.
If pension credits are frozen, this means no workers would be able to earn any more credits. For example, a worker with 15 years of service would be frozen at that amount of pension credits, no matter how much longer they worked. Similarly, a worker with 29 years of service would be frozen at that amount of pension credits, and would never be able to qualify for a 30-and-out pension, no matter how much longer they worked.
If benefit improvements are prohibited, this means the UAW could not even negotiate to update benefit levels to keep pace with inflation. This would be true both for active workers and for retirees!
This awful pension bill would also outlaw special early retirement benefits that are now triggered when there is a plant closing. This would eliminate one of the most important mechanisms for cushioning the impact of plant closings on workers.
This terrible pension legislation represents an enormous attack on the pensions of UAW active and retired members and tens of thousands of other workers employed at major manufacturing companies throughout the United States. It is an attempt by the Bush administration and House GOP leaders to undermine negotiated defined benefit pension plans.
At the same time that House GOP leaders are attacking pension benefits for workers and retirees, they have not done anything to the lucrative pensions earned by Members of Congress. Despite the huge federal deficits, Members of Congress would continue to have their pension credits and benefits increase automatically every year.
PLEASE ACT NOW TO PROTECT YOUR PENSION BENEFITS AND TO PROTEST AGAINST THIS DOUBLE STANDARD!
Please call your Representative toll free: 1-888-355-3588. Urge him or her to vote against this dangerous pension bill (H.R. 2830), that would freeze pension credits and benefits for American autoworkers and other industrial workers. Tell your Representative that Congress ought to be protecting pension benefits for American workers, not freezing pension credits and benefits, or outlawing plant closing benefits! Also tell them it is wrong for Congress to freeze pension credits and benefits for rank-and-file workers while lucrative pensions for Members of Congress are continuing to increase automatically every year!"
My stomach has been churning all weekend, each time I thought of losing the one thing I thought I could count on for the last 27 years. Following is my letter to my Congressman:
"Congressman Dennis Moore
1727 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Congressman Moore,
Thank you for your response to my writing you about ANWR. Each time I hear from you it is the highlight of my day. I never thought I would be honored with a response the first time I contacted you, let alone each time!
I work at the Fairfax General Motors plant, and am starting on my 28th year there. Friday night before our Veteran's Day ceremonies, I was handed a notice that there is a majority crafted bill H.R. 2830 afoot that would freeze my pension credits, making me unable to retire, that it would prohibit benefit improvements for not only active employees, but retirees as well, and would also outlaw our negotiated early retirement benefits for plant closings, which only apply to those with more than 25 years when their plant is closed allowing them to retire at the 30 year rate instead of trying to relocate with the rest of the workforce from their facility. In the dwindling environment of American autoworkers, I have known people to have waited years to be able to transfer somewhere else to try to be able to get their last few years towards retirement. I worked with one man who had hired in in 1968 in Southgate, California and was working in his 5th plant since he hired in, each time starting at the bottom of the seniority ladder as only his corporate time held, not his plant seniority. He had hired in setting park brakes at 28 years old, he was almost 60 and doing that same job again when I worked with him 6 years ago, and finally managed to get his "time to retire" last year at 64 years old.
We each hired in knowing that no matter how physically demanding our jobs, be them in the paint booths, or the body shop, or chassis that we could look forward to doing our 30 and getting out with a pension and our medical benefits for whatever time we had left. Recently someone said in researching our retirees that they live an average of 5 years after their retirement date, regardless of their age when they go out the door. There are times each of us would have quit over the years and gone to a less demanding job, something less physically abusive, or less stressful, but knowing we had a pension to look forward to has kept us there. As of late we've had more than a few who haven't made it to retirement, and their ages are a lot closer to mine than I like to think about!
Now it seems that even that is to be taken away from us by those who have no compassion for anything but their wallets. I have always counted on my retirement, figuring that when I did get out I would go do something else as I knew I couldn't count on Social Security and I have no savings; I also knew that when my day comes that my wife would get half my pension (somehow unfair when I still get the full amount if she dies) and get to keep her medical as long as I retire first and don't die while still working at GM.
I don't know if there is anything you can do to save us from this; sometimes I wish it was more like the old Jimmy Stewart movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and that one honest man could stand up and change everything because I know you are that man. Reality is that in this day and time I know it takes more than one, but somehow I am hoping that you can put together some kind of coalition that can stem this assault on benefits that our grandparents and great grandparents negotiated for us because they had a vision of blue collar workers being able to retire with dignity instead of being discarded like the scrap from the factory floor.
Once again, forgive me for bothering you amid your busy workday, and thank you for being my representative!"
I don't know how anyone else will feel about all this; in a world where most people don't have a pension to count on, perhaps no one cares about the few of us who do having it ripped from under us, but if someone reads this and doesn't mind writing their representative, I would be truly grateful!