Let's not allow Congress and members of the bailout parade panic us into allowing them to do things, as was done in the 1930s, that would convert a mild economic downturn into a true calamity. Right now the Big Three auto companies, and their unions, are asking Congress for a $25 billion bailout to avoid bankruptcy. Let's think about that a bit.
What happens when a company goes bankrupt? One thing that does not happen is their productive assets go poof and disappear into thin air. In other words, if GM goes bankrupt, the assembly lines, robots, buildings and other tools don't evaporate. What bankruptcy means is the title to those assets change. People who think they can manage those assets better purchase them.
Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, where the control of its business operations are subject to the oversight and jurisdiction of the court, gives companies a chance to reorganize. The court can permit complete or partial relief from the company's debts and its labor union contracts.
A large part of the problem is the Big Three's cozy relationship with the United Auto Workers union (UAW). GM has a $73 hourly wage cost including benefits and overtime. Toyota has five major assembly plants in the U.S. Its hourly wage cost plus benefits is $48. It doesn't take rocket science to figure out which company will be at a competitive disadvantage. Then there's the "jobs bank" feature of the UAW contract where workers who are laid off workers get 95 percent of their base pay and all their benefits. Right now there's a two-year limit but in the past workers could stay in the "jobs bank" forever unless they turned down two job offers within 50 miles of their factory. At one time job bank membership exceeded 7,000 "workers." GM, Ford and Chrysler face other problems that range from poor corporate management and marketing, not to mention costly government regulations.
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