Idled Auto Workers Tap the Jobs Bank

UAW Local 652's Bob Copeland works as a handyman at a public school in Lansing, Mich.,

UAW Local 652's Bob Copeland works as a handyman at a public school in Lansing, Mich., where he fixes musical instruments. Frank Langfitt, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Frank Langfitt, NPR
Dan Simon poses by a railing he crafted at a center for abused children.

Dan Simon stands next to a railing he built at a center for abused children. An autoworker in name only, he earns about $30 an hour doing construction on community service projects around Lansing. Frank Langfitt, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Frank Langfitt, NPR

Working "bankers' hours" has another meaning in Lansing, Mich., where idled auto workers are being paid more than $20 an hour for their time. Most of the jobs these "bankers" do are far from the production lines of the companies that pay them.

More on the Jobs Bank

The Jobs Bank was set up by mutual agreement between U.S. automakers and the United Auto Workers union to protect workers from layoffs. Begun in the mid-1980s, the program is being tapped by thousands of workers. Many of those receiving checks do community service work or take courses. Others sit around, watching movies or doing crossword puzzles — all while making $26 an hour or more.

The Big Three automakers agreed to the system to protect union workers from outsourcing and technology. But with Ford and General Motors losing money in North America — and contract negotiations due in 2007 — the future of the unique program is uncertain.

In an interview with The Detroit News, General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner says his company can't sustain the price of the program, which he says runs to $400 million annually.

Union officials say the companies should simply put those drawing checks from the Jobs Bank to work. But with carmakers looking to lay off thousands of workers, executives at Ford and G.M. say that's not likely to happen.

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