G.M., staggering under the weight of $10.6 billion in losses last year, said it would offer buyouts and early-retirement packages ranging from $35,000 to $140,000 to every one of its 113,000 unionized workers in the United States who agreed to leave the company.When firms are in financial distress, they need to get their creditors--typically private banks and public debtholders--to write down the value of their claims. If existing creditors are willing (or can be coerced) to do this, then the firm faces a better prospect of getting new creditors to help it finance value-enhancing projects. (I am still waiting to see what these might be for G.M.)
In a standard workout from financial distress, the firm enters an agreement with a bank and then makes an exchange offer to its public debtholders to give them new securities in exchange for their old ones, if a sufficient number of them accept. For an exchange offer to work, it typically has to shorten the maturity or raise the seniority of the new debt relative to the old. Those who opt for the exchange have to be able to "get in line" ahead of those who don't in the event that not all of the firm's creditors will be repaid in full. The more workers who take the buyout, the less money will be available in the near future for those who did not take it, in the event that G.M. doesn't recover.
In G.M.'s case, its labor contracts are so costly and so rigid that its unionized workforce resembles a major creditor, and what they have been offered resembles an exchange offer. So each of the 113,000 workers is making an individual assessment of whether they are likely to receive more money by taking the sure payment now or by seeing what uncertain payments they get when G.M. enters bankruptcy or recovers. As a Reuters story points out:
Several union officials said workers who have been thinking about a career change or those worried about the auto industry overall are the ones considering the offers.
The story also notes that employee reactions are mixed:
Reactions to GM's buyout offers, announced on Wednesday, varied among workers, with younger employees worrying about their future because the offers would not include health benefits, and some older ones getting ready to retire.
But some senior GM workers might just refuse to go.
Terry Brumley, 63, who works at the Corvette plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky, has been with GM more than 40 years.
"I'm not taking the money. I can raise a garden, go to dinner with my wife and go fishing, and still have a job. So why should I retire?'' he asks, adding that he sees himself working for at least another 10 years.
And, to show some of the problems with getting in the habit of offering buyouts, consider:
"Members of high seniority are very interested,'' Eldon Renaud, president of the United Auto Workers Local 2164 in Bowling Green, Kentucky, said. "There were a lot of people that were ... holding on to see if there was going to be a buyout offer.''
On this sort of dynamic inconsistency, more later.