YOUNGSTOWN - President Barack Obama is "concerned" about the pension plight of Delphi Corp. salaried retirees, former Youngstown mayor and now the nation's "auto czar" Jay Williams said Friday after meeting with two of the retirees about cuts in their pensions.
"I'm here because I was dispatched by the administration because there is concern," Williams said after a two-hour meeting at the George Voinovich Building in downtown Youngstown.
Williams said his mission for the meeting was to listen to the retirees' efforts to recoup reductions of as much as 30 percent to 70 percent after federal pension insurer Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. terminated their pension plan in July 2009 during auto parts maker Delphi's bankruptcy reorganization.
Interviews with Bruce Gump and Jay Williams about Delphi pension fund
Since being named in July to the post of executive director of the Labor Department's Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, Williams said he meets with President Obama "as often as appropriate. I'm representing the president of the United States and the secretary of labor. I will go back and talk to the appropriate parties."
The administration is focusing on issues in the Mahoning Valley beyond the salaried retirees, Williams said.
He noted federal resources could be used to help sharpen workers' skills to boost employment as well as encourage the return of manufacturing jobs sent overseas, along with technology growth.
"We should, and will, create the environment for private investment," he said.
Niles resident Bruce Gump, vice chairman of the Delphi Salaried Retirees Association, said he and Mary Ann Hudzik of Warren left the meeting with the feeling they made their case to Williams.
"We didn't expect any decision. What I expected was to be able to get our information to him, which we did," he said. "It was a very productive meeting. There could be some action from that."
Gump said the fact the meeting occurred in the year Obama will seek reelection doesn't hurt. He stressed the retirees association isn't a political group but added, "I do think the issue is public enough that it would be advantageous to have it resolved quickly."
Retirees also are suing the PBGC in federal court to force the agency to release documents they believe will show that government officials improperly influenced Delphi's bankruptcy reorganization to reward unions that supported Obama's 2008 run for office.
Gump said lawyers are in the discovery phase, or getting documents from the agency. The case will go to trial once the phase ends this spring, he said.
The effort is costing millions of dollars, he added.
"Thousands of retirees from all over the country send in $10, $15, $20, but the PBGC, as part of the government, has deep pockets. We've always been after fair treatment," he said.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, applauded the meeting.
"The treatment of these former Delphi employees was unjust when it was proposed, and it continues to be unjust today," according to Ryan's statement. "I know executive director Williams will take the concerns of these Delphi retirees back to Washington and continue to work toward a resolution that fairly restores some of the promises Delphi made to its workforce in better times."
Brown said many of the retirees are "continuing to experience economic hardship following the collapse of their former employer. I encourage Jay to do whatever possible to assist these retirees, who have yet to receive the pensions they earned and deserve."