GM Workers Likely To OK Deal With Automaker

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Although General Motors appears headed toward bankruptcy after bondholders rejected a key offer, the automaker does have a tentative restructuring plan with the United Auto Workers union.

Most UAW members appear likely to hold their noses Thursday and ratify the agreement, which would give a union trust fund up to 20 percent of GM's stock in exchange for concessions on wages and retiree health care.

More than 100 retired and active GM workers crowded into Local 22 in Detroit on Wednesday to hear about the plan. The deal is no longer to keep GM out of bankruptcy, but to protect the union's interests in bankruptcy.

Some Sacrifices

Mary Miller, who worked for GM for more than 30 years, says it will be hard to do without her vision and dental coverage.

"I guess we have to live with it, and I'm sure not happy about paying $50 for name-brand medication," she says.

There will also be uncertainty about what will happen to retiree health insurance. GM owes the union $20 billion for the retiree health care trust. The union will instead take about 20 percent of stock in the new GM.

But unsecured bondholders have rejected GM's offer of a 10 percent stake in the company. Retiree John Grissom says he understands many GM bondholders aren't Wall Street fat cats.

"They're in the same boat we are," he says. "I understand ... it hurts when you based your retirement ... on this money, but so did I."

Trying To Get By

There is an air of resignation about the cuts. Most people at Local 22 say they will vote to ratify the deal Thursday because rejecting it puts every GM job and pension at risk of disappearing.

Union leaders such as Local 22 Vice President Tom Summers are reluctantly but strongly recommending that workers ratify the deal. Summers says the reality is that in GM's precarious situation, the union has no choice.

"I've seen GM ups and downs. ... But they always bounced back," he says. "This is a whole new ballgame."

Ratification is almost certain, but having a deal in place ahead of time is no guarantee of a smooth bankruptcy proceeding, especially if bondholders hold out.

Independent auto analyst Erich Merkle says that rival automaker Chrysler's bankruptcy is going faster than people thought it could, but GM is a very different company.

"The real risk here is ... can a GM bankruptcy be done within 60 days? Because the longer it goes on, the more confidence you lose ... and then you've got some real problems."

Meanwhile, negotiations between the U.S. Treasury and GM's nearly 10,000 bondholders are being kept quiet. Depending on those negotiations, a GM bankruptcy filing could be imminent.

Tracy Samilton reports for Michigan Radio.

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