28 September 2007

After a brief strike

The United Auto Workers and General Motors reached an agreement Wednesday. The two day strike served like the prospect of a hanging, to focus the attention of both parties.

The gist of the agreement is this: GM wants to get out of the pension-fund management business. The UAW is willing to take over that role, given various agreements designed to smooth the transition.

The parties will create a trust, to be known as the Voluntary Employees' Beneficiary Association, or VEBA, that is expected to shift more than $50 billion worth of retiree health care obligations to the union.

From the point of view of a retiree, or a GM worker who might become a retiree at some point in the next few years, does this move in the provenance of the pension money make the stream of contracted-for payments more secure, less secure, or is it a wash? I'm not sure. It seems to me that the simply shift of the fund responsibility from one administering organization to another matters little. What matters is (a) the money coming in, (b) the money going out, and (c) the skill of the managers who handle it in the meantime.

I doubt much wil change with (c). The UAW will hire the same sort of folks to run VEBA who've beenhandling this money until now - it might even hire literally the same people to a great degree. Nor will (b) change short term. The commitments and demographics are what they are. So everything depends on (a). Will the new GM/UAW deal allow for the infusion of new cash into VEBA?

It seems to me that this is the idea, although the provisions for that infusion are rather indirect.

Wall Street loves the idea. Because it has visions of VEBA's money managers knocking at the doors of the brokerages, shouting, "puh-leeze help us make money. Puh-leez." It also has visions of Ford and newly-re-Americanized Chrysler joining the VEBA money pool too.

Come on in, the water's fine.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.