Retired from GM: One worker's fears

A former worker at the auto giant wonders if the promise of a secure retirement was just an empty gesture.

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By Allan Chernoff, CNN senior correspondent

Retired GM worker, George Hall, in front of the empty lot where the factory he worked at for 33 years once stood.
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LINDEN, N.J. (CNN) -- Standing at the factory gate he once entered for 33 years is like visiting a cemetery for George Hall.

On the other side of the locked gate, there are only remains. The General Motors plant where he worked in Linden, N.J. was recently bulldozed three years after shutting down.

Hall hopes the same fate doesn't lie ahead for the entire company, especially since his health insurance and pension still rely upon GM.

"Most everybody that's ever worked here, you worked on the promise that your pension was secure. Now you're finding out that possibly that promise was a lie and maybe it's not going to be secure," said Hall.

Not only is the 54-year old retiree worried about his financial security, but he's angry as well, believing executives of GM (GM, Fortune 500), Ford (F, Fortune 500) and Chrysler did a poor job this week, asking for help from Congress.

"When you are asking for something, especially money, that means you are in need," said Hall. "I think there's a level of humility you must have in doing that, and they didn't present themselves in a humble way, They presented themselves as we're these fat cats, we need the money, give it to us."

Hitting the whole family

A tremendous amount is at stake for the Hall family. Sixteen-year old Avery is a High School junior with plans to attend college, a major expense confronting George and his wife Garnet, a telecommunications equipment salesperson.

"I know I have money from my grandfather to put me through at least two years of college but I'm looking for my parents to pick up the other two," said Avery, referring to Grandpa Eddie, who worked at the GM plant for 42 years.

Daughter Aerian is in college, studying nursing. Fortunately, for the Halls, her educational expenses are being covered by Overlook Hospital, where she works part-time.

George now has his own business doing home improvements. But, it doesn't pay like his old job - a material handler at the factory that once produced the GMC Jimmy and Chevy Blazer - where he earned about $60,000 a year.

What's on the line for everyone

About a million people in the United States rely on General Motors for health insurance, 442,000 of them retirees. The company says it spent $3.3 billion last year on health care coverage for those retirees and their dependents, less than it did the year before. If GM were to go bankrupt those health benefits could be in jeopardy.

GM's pension plan is safer - it's overfunded for salaried retirees and slightly underfunded for hourly retirees. Over 479,000 retirees and surviving spouses receive GM pensions, according to the company.

George Hall receives more than $30,000 as a pension for his years of service.

"If I lose it right now I'm going to be in terrible trouble, and my family's going to be in terrible trouble," he said.

Still, Hall does not blame Congress for demanding a solid turnaround plan from the auto-makers.

"I don't think it's unfair. We're at a time where tough measures have to come in place. This is the time for accountability," he said.

George's dad Eddie believed a job with GM was as stable as you could get. Now George fears if Washington doesn't lend a hand, his family will lose its final support from the American icon that employed them for decades. To top of page

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