Find the latest episode of "The Uncertain Hour" here. Listen

Auto workers no longer have that old-time safety net

Gregory Warner May 1, 2012

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.

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.