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Auto workers no longer have that old-time safety net

A worker builds cars on the assembly line at Ford's Chicago assembly plant August 4, 2009 in Chicago, Ill. Auto workers' cushy health benefits and pensions were once the envy of the working world. Now those workers are just like everyone else.

Jeremy Hobson: Later this morning, we'll find out whether the big auto companies were still selling lots of cars in April. At the beginning of this year, Chrysler posted its best quarter in 13 years. But what has that meant for auto workers?

Marketplace's Gregory Warner has that story.


Gregory Warner: Whatever benefits you have at work, chances are, they were pioneered by the auto industry in the decades after World War II.

Ross Eisenbrey: Absolutely. The social contract was really written between auto industry and UAW.

Ross Eisenbrey at the Economic Policy Institute says now-familiar benefits like pensions and health insurance, paid vacations, health care for retirees -- all these were won first by auto unions, then demanded by other workers around the country.

Now post-recession and post-bailouts, that auto worker safety net is in shreds.

Gary Chaison is a professor of industrial relations at Clark University.

Gary Chaison: There is no safety net for auto workers any more. There's very little to fall back on and they are very vulnerable to the hard times coming.

Retiree health care benefits are out. So are generous pension plans. And he says wages are half what they once were, down to around $17 an hour.

The one bright spot? You can buy a decent house in Detroit for $40,000.

In Philadelphia, I'm Gregory Warner for Marketplace.

About the author

Gregory Warner is a senior reporter covering the economics and business of healthcare for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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