Washington, DC—Congressman Higgins is joining over a dozen other House Democrats to hold a national online hearing, “The American Automobile Industry in Crisis,” examining and discussing threats to American jobs in the U.S. auto industry. The e-hearing is only the third of its kind in history, and represents an important opportunity for Delphi, General Motors and other auto workers to communicate directly with Congress about their economic concerns.
“The future of the American manufacturing sector is on the precipice, and few communities have suffered more from this development than Erie and Chautauqua Counties,” said Higgins. “It is my hope that this hearing gives a voice to workers in Western New York and throughout America, so that we can document the impact of recent industry decisions on the middle class families that they most directly threaten. I look forward to using the testimony we collect to fight with my colleagues for better trade agreements, expanded health insurance coverage, stronger pension guarantees and more readily available worker training.”
Over the next two weeks, the lawmakers will solicit e-testimony from current and retired workers of Delphi, General Motors and others. Witnesses may submit e-testimony through Thursday, December 15, 2005. Local elected officials, union leaders, economists, and representatives of GM and Delphi have also been invited to submit testimony.
On October 8, Delphi Corporation, an auto parts maker based in Troy, Michigan, filed for bankruptcy. The company, which has 33,000 workers in the U.S., has since announced wage cuts of up to 60 percent, and has threatened to dump its pension plans onto the federal government. Delphi has also indicated that it may close some U.S. plants.
On November 21, General Motors announced it would close nine plants in the U.S., leading to the elimination of 30,000 American jobs. GM’s pension plan may face dramatic new liabilities and freeze pensioners’ benefits if Republican-sponsored pension legislation, H.R. 2830, becomes law. While GM has agreed to pick up some portion of Delphi’s liabilities if Delphi terminates its pension or retiree health plan, industry analysts have cautioned that GM may also be headed for bankruptcy, putting both GM and Delphi workers’ benefits at risk.
This is the third e-hearing that House Democrats have held this year. The first e-hearing – which was also the first e-hearing in history – was launched in May to give employees and retirees of United Airlines a chance to testify about how that company’s bankruptcy has affected them. Over 2,000 United employees and
retirees took part, and over 400 pieces of testimony were posted online.
Democrats are using the internet to conduct hearings for two reasons. First, the e-hearings make it possible for people all over the country to participate at no or little expense and on their own schedules. Second, only Republicans can convene formal live hearings, but they frequently refuse to hold hearings that give American workers a voice on issues of critical importance to them.
The Democratic lawmakers sponsoring this e-hearing will write and distribute a report based on the testimony they receive, and they will enter the testimony into the official Congressional Record.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE IN THE E-HEARING
Employees or retirees of Delphi Corp. or General Motors may send e-testimony of 500 words or less to firstname.lastname@example.org
. This testimony may be posted online. Witnesses must include their name, address, phone number, and email address for verification purposes; but only their name and hometown will be posted along with their testimony. Witnesses should discuss how the announced changes at GM and Delphi could affect their lives.
Attached is Congressman Higgins’ opening statement for the e-hearing.
“I want to thank Ranking Member Miller and the Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats for their leadership in addressing the current auto industry crisis. I appreciate the opportunity to co-sponsor this hearing on a subject that is so important to the Western New York communities I represent.
The future of the American manufacturing sector is on the precipice, and few communities have suffered more from this development than Erie and Chautauqua Counties. In the Buffalo of my youth, any person willing to work hard enough could make a decent living for his family at one of the great industrial plants throughout the region. It is no secret that those days are gone. Factories have closed, health care benefits have been dropped, wages have fallen and pensions are in trouble. Competition for remaining jobs is intense and those lucky enough to have a job live in constant fear that it will be outsourced or that their wages, health insurance or pension benefits will be cut.
One of the last bastions of good-paying manufacturing jobs in Western New York is the auto industry. Over nine thousand workers in my congressional district are employed at the Delphi plant in Lockport, the American Axle facilities which supply General Motors in Tonawanda and Cheektowaga, and the Ford Stamping Plant in Woodlawn. The auto industry has thrived in Western New York because our region boasts a highly skilled, well-educated workforce with a longstanding commitment to worker training, a proud history of positive, cooperative relations between workers and management and perhaps most importantly, a unique ability to provide low cost electricity to power large industry.
Yet today the auto industry workers I meet with and their families are concerned. For them, bankruptcies, mass layoffs and wage concessions do not exist solely in news reports; they very directly threaten their economic well-being.
It is my hope that this hearing gives a voice to workers in Western New York and throughout America, so that we can document the impact of recent industry decisions on the middle class families that they most directly threaten. I look forward to using the testimony we collect to fight with my colleagues for better trade agreements, expanded health insurance coverage, stronger pension guarantees and more readily available worker training.
If we are to return Western New York or any of the great American manufacturing centers to their former economic prosperity, we are going to have to start by securing the auto jobs that in many cases hold together the middle class in these communities. I urge affected workers to participate in this important hearing. Together, we can win the fight to reverse the trend and save these crucial jobs.”