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Ray Gold of Athens pickets with other Delphi employees outside the Limestone County Delphi plant Tuesday.
DAILY Photo by Emily Saunders
Ray Gold of Athens pickets with other Delphi employees outside the Limestone County Delphi plant Tuesday.

Delphi workers protest
Union criticizes CEO's compensation plan; company postpones wage cuts

By Holly Hollman
DAILY Staff Writer

hhollman@decaturdaily.com 340-2445

TANNER — About 100 people took vacation Tuesday, sat in lawn chairs on U.S. 31 around barrels where wood burned to keep them warm, and tried to raise awareness about a wreck.

That wreck is not a collision with multiple fatalities. The wreck, according to their picket signs, is Delphi Chief Executive Officer Steve Miller.

"Miller Wrecks American Values," the signs said.

United Auto Workers Local 2195 in Tanner was among 23 Delphi unions nationwide to hold an informal picket to protest Miller's plans for the company.

Howard Greene, shop chairman at the Limestone plant and a UAW member, said Miller is assaulting the middle class.

"Delphi's hurting the people who helped build this company and taking care of the top guys," Greene said during a break from picketing.

Delphi, the largest U.S. auto supplier, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Oct. 8, citing high labor costs. Since then, foreign companies such as the India-based Sona Group have expressed interest in buying Delphi's steering systems operations, which employ about 2,100 locally.

Delphi will have a hearing in bankruptcy court in January on its compensation plan. The plan would cut wages of production workers from $27 an hour to $10 to $12.50 an hour.

What has upset the union, Greene said, is that the plan would also give stock options and cash bonuses to about 600 executives when Delphi emerges from bankruptcy. Delphi also wants to extend severance packages from 12 to 18 months for some key executives.

Delphi has defended this part of the plan by saying it is necessary to keep its executive team in place during the bankruptcy process.

"The company didn't go bankrupt due to its hourly and salary workers," said Greene, a Delphi employee for 26 years. "Yet they want to give bonuses to people who were running it when it went bankrupt and cut the workers' pay."

Miller cut his own salary from $1.5 million a year to $1 million a year. Greene said Miller, however, did keep his $3 million signing bonus for joining Delphi.

Miller told The Detroit Free Press on Monday that Delphi will allow more time for negotiations with unions before asking a bankruptcy court to throw out its union contracts. Delphi was to file that motion Dec. 16, but agreed to wait until Jan. 20. Miller told the Detroit paper that he agreed to the delay after meeting privately last week with GM CEO Rick Wagoner because it would be in the "best interest of all three parties."

GM, which would be hurt by a Delphi workers strike, provided Delphi short-term financial support by not insisting on price cuts for Delphi-supplied parts in 2006.

Although still battling with unions on wage cuts, Miller told employees in a voice mail message that the pickets could take place, the Associated Press reported. Miller's message was on a union Web site in Indiana, and a Delphi official confirmed the message.

"Our unions have the right to share their point of view with their membership, and while we certainly disagree on some major points, we understand that these are to be for information only, and we don't expect any disruptions to our operations," Miller said in the message.

Greene said Tuesday would be the only day of picketing. Local UAW members waved their signs from 5:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"We hope this sends a message to our local, state and federal representatives that we need some help."

Greene named three improvements the federal government can make to prevent the loss of American automotive companies like Delphi.

First, trade rules hinder American workers, he said.

"We don't need free trade," Greene said. "We need fair trade. Right now, we can't compete with foreign workers who make 90 cents to a couple of dollars an hour. We import far more than we export because of that."

Secondly, Greene said, bankruptcy and pension laws need revamping.

"You shouldn't be able to declare bankruptcy and then eliminate pensions," he said. "If workers have been guaranteed a pension, a company should have to keep that funded. If you work your 30 years or until you are 62 with the promise of a pension, it should be there."

Lastly, health care is too expensive, Greene said.

"Why are prescription drugs cheaper in Canada?" he asked. "Our high medical costs are a burden on corporations like Delphi who provide health-care coverage, and on individuals who have to provide it for themselves."

Greene said the UAW wants the government to realize that because of those three issues, middle-class workers like those at Delphi are suffering.

"The middle class supports the tax base for the rich and poor," Greene said. "We have middle-class workers in the military serving in Iraq right now who are protecting this country, but could come home to a lower paying job or no job at all."

Greene said locally, Delphi contributes $200 million in wages to the economy. With threats of a foreign buyer, a possible strike, loss of pensions, 24,000 job cuts and lowered wages, workers like Greene are scaling back on spending.

"I personally don't eat out much at all anymore," he said. "I know of people who are cutting back like that. What happens to the North Alabama economy when we stop eating out? When we stop buying new cars? When we cut back on Christmas shopping?"

Greene said textile jobs went overseas first, then steel mills. The automotive industry is next.

"There's been a lot of press that we're worried about cut wages," Greene said. "And it is hard to put your kids through college on $10 an hour. But what we're most concerned about is having a job at all. If America loses its middle class, like our workers here, what shape will our country be in then?"

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