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June 28, 2009

Bailing Out Corporations But Not Pensioners Immoral

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

Dr. Mohamed ElmasryGovernments in Canada, both federal and provincial, were quick to bailout banks and the auto industry, but have been reluctant to step up to protect auto industry workers, who will lose their pensions.

Imagine that you are a worker who served General Motors faithfully for some
30 years, and now, through no fault of your own, find yourself on the
street. The likelihood of finding another job at age 50 is almost zero, and
then the company says it cannot honour its agreement to pay you the pension
that you contributed to for most of your working life.

To top it off, your government tells you, as Ontario Premier Dalton
McGuinty did last week, that the province’s pension-plan safety net-about
$100 million-isn’t large enough to cover autoworkers’ pensions.

"The money available in that is very, very modest," McGuinty said. "That
comes nowhere near meeting any liabilities: for example, for the auto
sector alone, to say nothing of all the other sectors. We would never have
all the money that would be needed to top it up to meet all the demands for
all Ontarians who are experiencing troubles with their pension plans."

The province’s finance minister Dwight Duncan then tells you the province’s
safety net-which is funded by corporations has been underfunded for 30
years.

Here is a classic example of how the rich and powerful behave. It is an
immoral crime of the first order!

Canadian Auto Workers union president Ken Lewenza rightly said that the
Ontario government has a "moral and legal responsibility" to help protect
the pensions of all workers in the province: "To suggest that retirees will
bear of the brunt of something they have no control over is just
unconscionable. I can’t even suggest to you how furious we are as an
organization to suggest that our retirees won’t be treated with decency and
respect during this crisis. What good is a pension-guaranteed fund if it’s
not there when you need it?"

Mr. Duncan said he would consult with unions, companies and the federal
government to address pension shortfalls, and that government officials
would meet with the CAW next week to discuss ways to keep both the
automakers and the pensions alive.

But time is running out and pensioners must be protected now; if not, there
will be human misery not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Just to remind our rich and powerful politicians, who only look after those
they like, depressions create vicious downward spirals. In 1932, 12 million
workers, almost one-fourth of the U.S. workforce, were unemployed. Hunger
and homelessness were widespread, and children suffered the most; one in
every five went hungry.

Bailing out pensioners would help both workers and the economy. The money
that workers and their families would receive from the government would be
spent on creating jobs, or at least slowing down the rising unemployment
rate.

Protecting workers pensions is the right thing to do economically, socially
and morally.

* Dr. Elmasry is Prof Emeritus of Computer Engineering, University of Waterloo. He can be reached at

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