Automakers plead for $25 billion lifeline - WKRN News 2

Automakers plead for $25 billion lifeline

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With Detroit's Big Three begging for a bailout, many wonder how the American auto industry drove itself into such a deep ditch.

Executives blame the credit crisis but Detroit area autoworkers like Mike Haiduc, a 24-year General Motors employee, said that's not the only problem.

Haiduc said it's the CEOs who put the car companies in the position they're in.

"They're the ones who make the choices.  We're the ones who put the cars together," he said.

Jerry Reedy, whose wife works at GM, said the company should get rid of the longtime perks enjoyed by higher-tiered supervisory employees.

He said, "She's a level seven.  The level eights get the free car washes, the free gas, the free insurance and they complain.  C'mon, you wanna save some money?  Let's save some money!"

Members of Congress are also playing the blame game, citing the companies' track record on car quality and fuel efficiency and lucrative union contracts for a dwindling workforce.

David Cole, chairman of the non-profit Center for Automotive Research, contends health insurance costs are strangling the companies.

"Every competitor, every international competitor, comes from an economy with some form of nationalized healthcare.  That means, in their home countries, the companies who produce cars really pool that cost across the entire economy.  Here, that's absorbed all within the company so that is a critical factor," he said.

In Tennessee, a bill bailing out the auto industry does not seem to have much support among local representatives.

In a radio interview, Brentwood Republican Marsha Blackburn said "what the auto industry is now doing is asking the American taxpayer to cover their legacy cost...  Their pension, their retirement, their healthcare benefits, those items and I've got a problem with that."

Blackburn voted against the government's original $700 billion bailout.

Nashville democrat Jim Cooper voted in support.  He now seems to have changed his mind.

"The thing we need to do is tough love for Detroit.  We might end up helping them, but they've got to stop doing same-old, same-old business," he said.

Around 40 Spring Hill auto workers traveled to Nashville Tuesday to ask Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker to support the auto industry.

"We wanted to come up personally to their office and let them know how important this legislation is to many people in Middle Tennessee and across the entire nation," Mike Herron, chairman of UAW Local 1853, said.

Of the workers at the GM Plant in Spring Hill, 48% live in Maury County, 23% in Williamson.

Any potential layoffs would have a big impact on both those counties.

"The car industries are asking for just a low interest loan that would be paid back, just to get them through this very difficult time," Herron said.

Leading Democrats support the proposal, but Republicans, as well as the Bush Administration, question giving them more money.

"When you're talking about an industry with five million jobs attached to it, this isn't like a normal business," said Herron.  "It's a key industry in the United States."

Senators Alexander and Corker were in Washington Tuesday, so members of the UAW talked with representatives instead.

The Spring Hill GM Plant makes the new Chevy Traverse and employs nearly 3,500 people.

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