As U.S. automobile industry executives beg, plead, and struggle on Capitol Hill to gain support for a federal bailout to save their businesses, auto-plant workers in northwest Ohio are struggling with the idea that a majority of Americans do not support saving their jobs and what they call America's middle-class way of life.
Some workers say most Americans do not understand the importance of the U.S. automotive industry and the impact its failure would have on all Americans' lives.
A CNN national poll released yesterday showed that 6 of 10 Americans oppose using taxpayer money to give financial aid to Detroit's Big Three automakers.
Autoworkers such as Nicole Jones, 39, of South Toledo, an assembly line worker at the Toledo Jeep Assembly complex, question why it was so easy to gain congressional support to bail out the banking and insurance industries earlier this year, yet so many Americans seem opposed to saving her company and millions of jobs.
"It kinda hurts because we work hard to build a good product," said Ms. Jones, a single mother of two. "It's kind of like they're spitting in our face. People who work hard and keep this economy going, we're nothing. If you have something and you own this, you own that, you can get what you want, but if you work hard to achieve something, you don't matter."
Ms. Jones was one of dozens of United Auto Workers union members gathered yesterday on the factory floor of the assembly complex owned and operated by Chrysler LLC, where company Chairman and Vice President Tom LaSorda hosted a town hall meeting to show support for federal aid that the Big Three automakers say they need to stay in business.
Sherry Goins-Speiker, 39, of West Toledo, a 15-year veteran at the Jeep complex, said many people believe UAW workers like her make too much money. She and Ms. Jones said they earn about $60,000 annually.
"There's just no help for the middle class," she said. "I'm the primary income in my house. I take care of all the bills. If I lose my job, there's four kids who don't have a roof over their head, food in their mouths, and we're at that point in life where you make too much money to get any government help and you don't make enough to do it on your own."
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), who attended yesterday's meeting and supports a federal bailout for the automakers, said many Americans misunderstand what the car companies are asking for.
"It's not a bailout," she said. "This is not the same thing as what we did for Wall Street, which got a free ride for 20 times as much as we've talked about in this deal. They didn't even have to appear before Congress. They just took the money and ran. I think that if people understood that it was a loan with interest, I think they would react a different way," she said.
Autoworker Rosalind Welch, 49, of South Toledo, a 12-year veteran assembly-line worker for Toledo's GM Powertrain plant, said most Americans think of high-paid executives when they say they do not support a loan for the auto industry.
"They're looking at upper management and their situation, but they have to remember that this affects the country," she said. "Look at the hourly people. If I don't have any money to spend, then that affects the next person because if I'm not buying from you then your business closes. Hourly people don't have a high standard of living. We're not living high off the hog."
The Detroit Three's CEOs on Monday announced they would be willing to work for an annual salary of $1 if it will convince Congress to support a loan.
Several autoworkers said they would not be willing to follow in their employers' footsteps while some said they would if it means the companies can stay in business.
"It would have to be a very sensible pay cut," said Bob Wood, 67, a retired GM worker who lives in Trilby.
Mr. Wood, 67, who has been retired for about 15 years after working for GM for 34 years, said he still collects a retirement check from the company.
"What they pay me is nothing compared to what they pay a person who retires now," he said. "I can't afford a cut in my pension or to lose my medical, because that would put me in the poorhouse."
Miss Kaptur said many people do not understand what the failure of the U.S. auto industry would mean for Toledo and the rest of the country.
"It would not only be a severe body blow to the economy of Toledo and Ohio, but all of America because no major industrial power in the world has ever survived without a thriving domestic automotive industry," she said. "If Wall Street wants a nation of service workers, we will find that a middle-class way of life is not possible for the majority."
GM plant worker Thomas Chio, 54, of Petersburg, Mich., said losing his own job is not what scares him. His son, David, who was laid off by GM last year, has struggled to find steady employment ever since, he said.
"I'm not so much concerned about me. I'm concerned about our children," he said. "I got three kids and a lot of grandkids. Are they all gonna have to work at McDonald's and Burger King? I'm just concerned whether they're going to be able to try to make a living and have a nice home like we do."
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