Craig Coffey, a retiree in Nevada who invested $55,000 in bonds in the old GM that are now worthless, was outraged that the union is on its way to recovering all its money before investors get even a cent of compensation.
“We just sat and watched [the stock offering]. We got nothing,” he said. “Screwed again.”
Mr. Coffey has had to make ends meet by finding odd jobs, which can be difficult in the hard-hit Las Vegas area. He said it wasn’t only the union that benefited from getting full repayment to its pension trust fund under the White House bankruptcy plan.
“That was a way for the government to avoid having the liability put on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation,” he said. Bankruptcy courts often discharge corporate pension obligations to the government insurance fund.
“They dodged a bullet there and pushed it back to the union,” Mr. Coffey said. “Now, they’ve made them whole and screwed the bondholders.”
Steve Rattner, the White House auto czar who engineered the deal, repeated the position he took throughout the bankruptcy — that the bondholders would have ended up with nothing if the government hadn’t intervened.
“I think everybody was treated fairly,” he told Bloomberg News last week. “If we had not saved General Motors, those bonds would be worth exactly zero.”
He hinted that the union in the next round of collective bargaining that begins next summer may seek to recoup still more of the concessions it made in bankruptcy, given GM’s growing profitability.
“The best outcome is a successful GM that then shares fairly with our membership,” he said.
John Paul McDuffie, a professor at the Wharton School of Business, said the full funding of the union’s pension and health care trust fund through the bankruptcy process represents progress because it helped solve one of most “persistent and difficult” bones of contention between GM and its union.
The bankruptcy settlement enabled GM to proceed with a hard-won 2007 plan it negotiated with the union to spin off those huge liabilities and let them be funded in the future by the trust fund that received the stock.
Mr. McDuffie said the bankruptcy also proved useful in forcing the company to learn to survive in turbulent times.
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