The Huffington Post asked readers on June 2 to weigh in on how the General Motors bankruptcy would affect their towns and lives. Dozens of residents of the long-suffering Rust Belt responded with sad stories, some long, some short. Some really short:
"I was born and raised in Flint," wrote Joseph MacDonald. "Enough said."
Same goes for Al Kelush, who grew up in Flushing, just 10 miles from Flint. "Need I say more?" asked Kelush, who did in fact say more before cutting himself off. "I could go on, but my blood pressure has already gone up too far."
Many readers provided some narrative about their GM experience. Jacob Hicks wrote about how towns affected by the bankruptcy would go through the same process that had afflicted his hometown of Danville, Ill., when GM shut down a plant there in 1996.
"The effects of that closing have literally destroyed the place I called home for nearly 20 years," Hicks wrote. "Jobs moved out little by little and now, two decades later, Danville is a shell of its former self. It was never a great place, but the effects of GM's pull out were severe and the town will probably never recover. The town's losing a GM factory due to the bankruptcy restructuring will, unfortunately, suffer just as Danville has. It will be devastating and the places these people call home will never be the same. I feel terribly and I empathize with them as I know exactly what the future holds for them."
Blaire Jackson, Clio, Mich., wrote about GM roots in the family:
My father and brother are current GM employees. My mother, grandfathers, aunt, uncle are all retirees of GM. My great grandfather worked for GM. I live in Clio Michigan, which is about 15 minutes from Flint. Everyday when I go to college (UMFlint), I see the parking lot that was Buick City. I live and breathe the effects everyday.
Ivan Gaytan wrote:
I'm from Mansfield, Ohio though currently attending school in Chicago. I worry not only about my parents, whose restaurant will surely be affected by the closing of the GM plant in Mansfield, but the city of Mansfield altogether. Independent businesses have not flourished in our small town in YEARS.
Jerry Mallicoat of Springboro, Ohio, wrote:
My mother is a surviving spouse of a GM retiree. She is 85 and even though she and my father worked and saved for many years to build a nice middle-class life, she still relies on his GM retiree health benefits. She has several serious eyesight problems, including a detached retina and mild glaucoma, which require her to see a specialist ophthalmologist several times a year. If GM/UAW discontinue vision and dental benefits as part of their bankruptcy, as reported, my mother will need to start spending her savings to pay for her expensive eye care. I believe vision and dental benefits are only the first sacrifices and that eventually GM/UAW will dramatically scale back all of their benefits.
Often the people who chide GM and the UAW for alleged years of mismanagement and rich benefits forget about the hundreds of thousands of retirees who had no real decision-making authority about business decisions over the years. Yet, they worked very hard to make GM the powerhouse it became and in return they had legally negotiated and contractual benefits that many rely on, and many do not have the means to replace those benefits if lost. Unlike the Wall Street bank executives who got to keep their hefty bonuses because they were legal and contractual, UAW union workers will likely have to give up their contractual benefits, and it just doesn't seem fair.
I don't begrudge anyone their rightful due for dedication and hardwork, particularly if there are legal contracts guaranteeing their compensation. Yet, most of the GM/UAW retirees were not responsible for the company's bad decision-making over the years while many of the Wall Street bankers were. It's the blue-collar little guy that is getting shafted amidst all this economic mess. And, it is thanks to unions of all types that most U.S. workers enjoy workplace benefits today. Most companies, union or otherwise, had to match the benchmark workplace benefits unions negotiated over the years. So those who criticize unions should remember that and be a little more respectful.
And many thanks to Kay Peariso, who shared the story of her longstanding family ties to Flint and GM:
My husband and daughter work for GM PowerTrain Flint North that make the transmissions for the Buick La Crosse. They will be closing by the end of 2010 or possibly sooner effecting almost 700 employees. That factory is in Flint, Michigan.
Let me tell you a story about Flint, Michigan and my family ties to the company. GM was born in Flint, Michigan in 1908. My grandfather started working for the company in 1928. He was an employee at the time of the famous "Sit Down Strike" that gave birth to the UAW. I am proud of that. People don't realize that prior to the UAW many men died on the job or as a result of injury. People were burned. People fell in pits. People were crushed to death in presses. People crushed by chassies, axles, autos, engines, etc falling on them. People were exposed to dangerous chemicals and received severe chemical burns. People breathed in coal dust with no masks. And even more. They were forced to sit in lunchrooms while the line was down with no pay. They had no rights and were treated unfairly and inhumanely. They only made 4 cents an hour while the Hoover-like men in the offices just kept getting richer and richer. That's all why the UAW started. The UAW is responsible for setting minimum wage, health and safety standards in the workplace OSHA, fairness and anti-discrimination laws, health care and played a role in social security much more which benefits everyone and everyone's workplace. The UAW built the middle class.
When my father hired into the Buick Motors Factory in 1962 there were over 20,000 employees in that plant. When my husband hired into that plant in 1978 there were 14,000 employees. Then the workforce started taking a tumble to the bottom. They have had lay off after lay off. In the mid-nineties Buick left the plant and that's when it became PowerTrain Flint North with only a couple of thousand employees left. Today there are somewhere between 600 or 700 left.
Flint, Michigan already looks like a war zone that a bomb went off in. There are too many homes boarded up and abandoned to count. I have never seen abandoned homes in my suburban neighborhood until about 4 yrs. ago. There are several factories that sit empty and closed or empty, brown field lots where they use to be. School after school has been closed. Business after business has either closed or left town. The crime rate is ridiculous. The cases of alcoholism and drug use has skyrocketed. The infant mortality is one of the worst in the nation. Child neglect and abuse is rampant. The homelessness is out of control. In 2000, 38% of the population lived in poverty and it will continue to climb. We have an unemployment rate over 20% already and that is due to increase real soon. Charities have nothing to give, when they do give they run out before they can even service half of the needy. Therefore, people are going hungry and without basic necessities. The police and fire fighters has been cut to dangerous levels. And the jails have no room at the inn. It's all about to get worse now. This is what happens when a factory or factories leave a town.
The UAW workers are very charitable. They run two direct charities, Old News Boys and United Way. Old Newsboys gives clothing and toys to children at Christmas time. They also started United Way years ago. They provide several services to the needy and the rest of the community. Several of the unions also collect for Toys for Tots. My husband's union hall has a Christmas party for children every year. They have several dinner for the retirees. They also have fund raiser for numerous charities. That will all be hit very hard.
"We" aren't greedy, rich people just because "we" work for the UAW, nor are mid to low level white collar workers that work for GM. "We" just wanted to earn a decent middle class living just like everyone else. We have faces, we have families, we are real living human beings, we are not just numbers and talking points.
Peariso wrote that she has eight family members, "still working for GM until the plants close."