Auto Bailout Was Really Just a UAW Bailout

  President Obama told the United Auto Workers (UAW) in February not to listen to critics of the auto bailout who said union members "made out like bandits—that saving the auto industry was just about paying back the unions." "Really?" Obama said. "I mean, even by the standards of this town [Washington], that's a load of you-know-what."


New research from Heritage labor economist James Sherk proves that it was, in fact, a load of truth.

The Treasury Department estimates that taxpayers will lose $23 billion on the auto bailout. Sherk and co-author Todd Zywicki find that none of these losses came from saving jobs, but instead went to prop up the compensation of some of the most highly paid workers inAmerica. They write:
We estimate that the Administration redistributed $26.5 billion more to the UAW than it would have received had it been treated as it usually would in bankruptcy proceedings. Taxpayers lost between $20 billion and $23 billion on the auto programs. Thus, the entire loss to the taxpayers from the auto bailout comes from the funds diverted to the UAW.

The Obama campaign is touting the bailout in Michigan this week, crowing about saved-or-created jobs. What the bailout actually saved was the UAW's heavily padded compensation packages; what it created was a massive taxpayer loss.

The UAW was a significant factor in the automakers' decline: It had raised Detroit's labor costs 50 percent to 80 percent above other automakers, such as Toyotaand Nissan. In 2006, General Motors paid its unionized workers $70.51 an hour in wages and benefits. Chrysler paid $75.86 an hour. Added to mistakes by management, these labor costs were a major reason the automakers went bankrupt.

However, through the bailout, the Obama Administration insulated the UAW from most of the sacrifices unions usually make in a bankruptcy—at taxpayer expense.

GM and Chrysler owed billions to a trust fund they had created to provide UAW members with gold-plated retiree health benefits. In bankruptcy, these funds should have been paid proportional to other unsecured creditors. Instead, while the Administration paid other creditors only a fraction of what they were owed, it gave the UAW trust fund assets worth tens of billions—including partial ownership of both companies. The U.S. Treasury should have received these assets.


See entire text.