Janesville Upset Over Article on GM Health Costs

By: Dana Brueck
By: Dana Brueck

An article by a national newspaper is causing a major stir in one small, local community. The story by the Wall Street Journal uses the GM assembly plant in Janesville to illustrate the carmaker's rising cost of health care.

"It's a lot different being in maintenance than on the line. Those people got a tough line to go, I'll tell ya," retired GM worker Dick Graf says.
But it's not GM's assembly line that caught the eye of the Wall Street Journal. It is the company's rising cost of health care.

Graf says, "I let myself probably go I probably should've been going to a fitness center, but I didn't."

Dick Graf retired from GM five years ago. He and his wife use company benefits.
"I'm gonna be 72. I ain't worried about health too much anymore," Graf says.
But, according to the WSJ, GM worries plenty about the cost of health care for its workers and retirees.

The article states GM will spend $5.6 billion this year for more than a million of its active and retired employees.

Thirty-one percent of the carmaker's total health bill comes from current employees and their families. Retirees like Graf make up the rest.

"I know it's tough on GM over the years because they have so many retirees, and the health costs and everything is running them in the hole," Graf says. But it's how the journal tells the story that has people upset.

"At Janesville, we do have a non-smoking facility with designated smoking areas. We do have a health facilities and again we've got a workforce quoted in that article as using those facilities," plant manager Gary Malkus says.

The article spotlights a nearby tavern, where it says GM workers smoke cigarettes and drink Milwaukee-brewed Miller beers during their lunch break.

Jim Zachow owns the bar. He says, "a lot come past power walking, they're all coming around so they stop, have a beer, so what, don't hurt nothing."

Except, perhaps, an image people here work hard to build. Graf says, "They've had that bar down there for 40 years or more. People always did their jobs. They've always had a good product."

A spokesperson for GM in Janesville declined to comment further on the article.

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