This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 19, 2008 - Missouri Sen. Christopher Bond praised the Bush administration on Friday for its plan to lend money to General Motors and Chrysler.
Bond, a Republican who had joined with Democrats to push for help for the carmakers, said the loans would help protect millions of American jobs and prevent irreversible harm to the U.S. economy.
The plan announced by President Bush Friday morning includes $13.4 billion in short-term loans from the $700 billion Wall Street bailout fund. The loans are designed to help GM and Chrysler stay alive while they restructure and become financially viable.
If that viability has not been reached by March 31, 2009, the loans must be repaid.
"Taxpayers can rest assured that as a condition for receiving these loans," Bond said in a statement, "auto companies must fundamentally restructure their operations to become competitive and profitable again."
In particular, Bond noted that the automakers must limit executive compensation and cut perks such as golden parachutes and corporate jets. Taxpayers would also receive an equity share in the companies and in any profits from a turnaround.
"Today's action is important news for the millions of hard-working America workers and families dependent on the auto industry who are worried about getting pink slips right before Christmas," he said. "Auto jobs form the backbone of American manufacturing, especially in the Midwest.
"I will continue to hold both the administration and companies' feet to the fire to ensure these reforms are enacted and taxpayers are protected."
U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., also praised the bailout plan, saying:
"With unemployment at a 26-year high, and with up to 3 million American jobs at risk, we can do no less.
"It is essential that the domestic auto companies bring all their partners together -- including the UAW, dealers, creditors and suppliers -- to make the hard changes necessary to create a new business model and a viable future."
In Fenton, the financial secretary of United Auto Workers Local 110, Robert Lord, compared the current auto situation with the Chrysler government loan in the 1970s and 1980s. The union was willing to make concessions to help out then, he said, and it took several contracts for Chrysler workers to get back to an even level with those at Ford and GM. But, he noted, the loan was paid off, and Chrysler survived.
This time around, he said, Bush wants to help Chrysler the same way.
"In my opinion," Lord said, "the president is realizing the importance of the auto industry to the United States and saying, I can't let this collapse. My term is about to expire, and I at least want to see the industry survive and let President Obama put his personal stamp on it."
Noting the criticism of some that union autoworkers are overpaid and a drag on the U.S. industry, Lord responded:
"The job bank was created in agreement with Chrysler, and a lot of it was done to protect the skilled workforce because of the ups and downs of the industry. They did it so when things were good, they didn't have to retrain people."
In the end, Lord said, the UAW will do what is needed for its members to keep working.
"If we have to give up sacrifices this time, we're more than willing," he said. "The mood of the membership is that we need to take care of our families, we need to put food on the table. If we need to take a wage cut to fight another day, that's what we're going to do."