GM's White-collar Retirees Want a Seat at the Table, Too

Last Updated Jun 18, 2009 10:14 AM EDT

A lot of players are getting a raw deal out of the General Motors bankruptcy -- including lenders, suppliers, car dealers and potentially U.S. taxpayers -- but GM's white-collar retirees are near the top of the list.

"The retiree benefits at issue here are absolutely critical," said the GM Retirees Association, in a petition in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The group wants the court to appoint a committee that would look after the interests of white-collar retirees. The request is scheduled for a hearing June 25, according to the association.

GM has wasted no time cutting benefits for salaried retirees. Among other things, it has eliminated heath care coverage for salaried retirees over age 65, replacing it with a $300 per month increase in pension checks. The retirees argue that the stipend is inadequate. GM has also reduced benefits for younger retirees.

Active and retired hourly employees are aggressively represented by the United Auto Workers union. But unlike the UAW, salaried retirees have not been involved in the months of negotiations that have surrounded GM's bailout by the U.S. Treasury, nor in the reorganization of the "New GM," according to the association.

The white-collar retirees formed the GM Retirees Association, based in Essexville, Mich., in April 2009, when it started looking like GM's bankruptcy was inevitable. Karen DeOrnellas, a spokeswoman for the group, said the GM Retirees Association is open to hourly retirees, but most of its members are salaried retirees.

The salaried retirees maintain they are not a bunch of fat cats. Salaried retirees include "many, many tens of thousands of former secretaries, engineers, clerks, buyers, quality inspectors, middle managers and other non-hourly employees who in many cases have spent most of their lives building GM into the world's leading automotive company," the GM Retirees Association said in its petition.

The GM Retirees Association is handicapped by a late start. But the group said it had attracted "thousands" of members.