Well, it’s got the word "bank" in it, doesn’t it? -H. Paulson

From the Detroit News, Jobs bank programs — 12,000 paid not to work

Ken Pool is making good money. On weekdays, he shows up at 7 a.m. at Ford Motor Co.’s Michigan Truck Plant in Wayne, signs in, and then starts working — on a crossword puzzle. Pool hates the monotony, but the pay is good: more than $31 an hour, plus benefits.

“We just go in and play crossword puzzles, watch videos that someone brings in or read the newspaper,” he says. “Otherwise, I’ve just sat.”

Pool is one of more than 12,000 American autoworkers who, instead of installing windshields or bending sheet metal, spend their days counting the hours in a jobs bank set up by Detroit automakers and Delphi Corp. as part of an extraordinary job security agreement with the United Auto Workers union.

The jobs bank programs were the price the industry paid in the 1980s to win UAW support for controversial efforts to boost productivity through increased automation and more flexible manufacturing.

As part of its restructuring under bankruptcy, Delphi is actively pressing the union to give up the program.

With Wall Street wondering how automakers can afford to pay thousands of workers to do nothing as their market share withers, the union is likely to hear a similar message from the Big Three when their contracts with the UAW expire in 2007 — if not sooner.

“It’s an albatross around their necks,” said Steven Szakaly, an economist with the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. “It’s a huge number of workers doing nothing. That has a very large effect on their future earnings outlook.”

General Motors Corp. has roughly 5,000 workers in its jobs bank. Delphi has about 4,000 in its version of the same program. Some 2,100 workers are in DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group’s job security program. Ford had 1,275 in its jobs bank as of Sept. 25. The pending closure of Ford’s assembly plant in Loraine, Ohio, could add significantly to that total. Those numbers could swell in coming years as GM and Ford prepare to close more plants.

Detroit automakers declined to discuss the programs in detail or say exactly how much they are spending, but the four-year labor contracts they signed with the UAW in 2003 established contribution caps that give a good idea of the size of the expense.

According to those documents, GM agreed to contribute up to $2.1 billion over four years. DaimlerChrysler set aside $451 million for its program, along with another $50 million for salaried employees covered under the contract. Ford, which also maintained responsibility for Visteon Corp.’s UAW employees, agreed to contribute $944 million.

Delphi pledged to contribute $630 million. In August, however, Delphi Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robert S. “Steve” Miller said the company spent more than $100 million on its jobs bank program in the second quarter alone.

…”The union probably realizes the money to pay for these programs probably doesn’t exist,” Szakaly said. “There’s going to have to be some give on the jobs bank.”

While the job banks may exemplify the sort of excesses that give unions a bad name, experts say it is wrong to cast all the blame in the direction of Solidarity House. He said the leaders of GM, Ford and Chrysler also bear some responsibility for the current problems.

“If these guys built cars people wanted, this wouldn’t even be an issue,” Szakaly said.

Really? If the Big 3 didn’t forgo hundreds or thousands of dollars on every single car they built, this “wouldn’t be an issue?” GM just has to build cars so much better than Honda and Toyota that consumers will pay a hefty premium for them? Good luck with that. RTWunbelievableT

The combined market cap of the Big 3 is now around $8 billion (GM 1.9, Ford 4.0, Chrysler is private, but let’s guess 2.0). Who, in their right mind would “lend” 300%+ of market value to companies that pay people $31 an hour, plus Cadillac benefits, to do crossword puzzles?

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