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Ryan takes up issue of autoworker pensions in Ohio

October 28, 2012|By Alana Semuels
  • Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan speaks during a campaign stop in Yellow Springs, Ohio, as his son Charlie jumps on stage with a sign.
Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan speaks during a campaign… (Jay LaPrete / Associated…)

SABINA, Ohio -- Auto workers might be a tough demographic for the Romney-Ryan campaign to court -- many benefited from the industry bailout and have praised President Obama and his administration for their actions during the economic slowdown.

But Paul D. Ryan tried to change that Saturday on the final leg of his five-stop bus tour through Ohio, meeting with retired salaried workers of onetime GM supplier Delphi Corp. and telling a group of Ohioans in a high school gym how those workers illuminated the flaws of the Obama administration.

“You see, the president likes to go around Ohio talking about how he saved the auto industry, how the auto bailout was such a success,” Ryan said. “He hasn’t talked to these Ohio Delphi salaried employees. Because this is one of those examples of the government picking winners and losers.”

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Delphi salaried employees allege that the government unfairly turned over their pensions to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which will not give workers the pensions they thought they’d be receiving, while union workers for Delphi were able to keep their pensions. About 20,000 salaried workers lost their pensions, including some from Ryan’s Wisconsin district.

It may be difficult to place the blame for this on Obama, though: The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office looked into the pension discrepancy and found that the union had a preexisting contract that GM would provide some retirement benefits to Delphi union members “should their pension plans be frozen or terminated,” while salaried employees did not have such a contract. Further, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, law professor said that Delphi would likely have failed without the auto bailout, according to Bloomberg News.

Still, Republicans such as Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio see something fishy in the deal, which may be why Ryan ended up speaking on the issue Saturday. (One of Boehner’s top aides, Mike Steel, is now a Ryan campaign spokesman who travels with the vice presidential nominee.)

Before the rally at East Clinton High School in Sabina, Ohio, Ryan sat around a horseshoe table with 10 representatives from the Delphi Salaried Retirees Assn. and with Rep. Mike Turner. Thomas Rose, chairman of the association, told Ryan that the group had petitioned the White House for transparency about why salaried employees would not receive pensions.

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“We’ve heard zero from the White House,” Rose said.

Ryan brought up the meeting in the high school rally, where his children threw T-shirts to the crowd as a band played. It was attended by about 800.

“I just had the opportunity to sit down with some Delphi employees here,” he said.

“Who are just like the people I know who are my friends and constituents in Oak Creek.

“All they want is transparency and honesty from their federal government, and they’re not getting it. And they deserve better than that. Mitt Romney and I have a different idea of how government should operate. ... We don’t think we should be deciding who gets what where when and how and who doesn’t. That’s what the economy does, that’s what freedom does, that’s what people do for themselves.”

The Obama campaign responded to Ryan’s speech in Ohio with a statement that criticized Romney while citing numerous sources that said that the administration did not dictate what happened to Delphi pensions.

“Congressman Ryan is trying to rewrite history,” Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner said in a statement. “The fact is that when the American auto industry and its workers were on their knees, Mitt Romney turned his back. Had we ‘let Detroit go bankrupt’ like Romney wanted, Delphi likely would have been liquidated and its employees would have lost their jobs.”

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alana.semuels@latimes.com

Twitter: @alanasemuels

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