Auto industry bailout talks continue

December 7, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Talks continue this weekend on a massive deal to rescue the American auto industry.

Whatever negotiators come up with will be a tough sell to a congress already skeptical about the industry's chances of survival.

In the bay Area Nummi auto workers rallied outside Senator Dianne Feinstein's office Saturday, pleading for a bailout.

They're used to building vehicles, but Saturday they were building support.

"I understand that the Big 3 executives have a bad rap but it's not about them. It's about the membership, it's about the people," said Victor Quesada with United Auto Workers.

The United Auto Workers Union says the whole economy is in jeopardy and they want congress to approve an emergency bridge loan to the auto industry.

"When you look at the auto industry and the supplier web, and the interconnections between suppliers and the manufacturers, you can't take one gear out of the machine without it all coming down," said Sharon Cornu with the Alameda Labor Council.

Even if it can be agreed upon that something must be done to bail out the Big 3, where this money is coming from is another matter entirely. The latest proposal has it coming from a fund aimed at developing green vehicles.

"There's a lot of innovative start-up companies that would like a handout as well. Why should the money just go to the big 3?" asked Paul Guzyk with 3Prong Power Inc.

The plan would provide $15 to 17 billion from a $25 billion fund approved this summer by the Energy Independence and Security Act.

Professor of Energy and Resources at UC Berkeley Dan Kammen is not a fan.

"I would like to see money that's set aside for innovation to be used for innovation. I would like to see money that is an emergency bridge loan be called what it is," he said.

Kammen says that whatever the plan is called, people should not expect any short-term innovation from Detroit.

"The U.S. auto manufacturers have consistently not lived up to that. They have not gone green multiple times in the past," he added.

This has provided frustration for Marc Korchin, the owner of Green Motors in Berkeley.

"I'm supporting independents that have already got the idea. And, quite honestly I think those independents should be rewarded for already having been on the right track," he says.

Workers there say they will provide more green vehicles but they cannot do it without green-backs from Capitol Hill.

While $15 billion may not be enough to keep them afloat for long, Pat Caccamo with United Auto Workers says, "As long as it's keeping the plants operating that's all our concern is."

Details on the emergency loan were still being worked out over the weekend. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is insisting that any money taken from the Green Car Fun be paid back within weeks.

A vote is expected this coming week.