Local travelers want strings attached to Big Three deal

By Erin Ailworth and Robert Weisman
Globe Staff / December 9, 2008
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Joo Won Lee, a 31-year-old student pecking away at his laptop in Boston's South Station yesterday, recalled a saying from his native South Korea that summed up his thoughts about a US government bailout of the Big Three automakers: "It's like pouring water into a bottle with a hole underneath."

Waiting for his train nearby, Conrad Gutierrez, an interpreter at Tufts Medical Center, warned about the dire consequences of allowing the nation's automakers to collapse.

"They have to do a bailout because we can't afford it to crash," said Gutierrez, 35. "It would sink the economy."

Seven-hundred miles from Motown, an imminent deal between the White House and Congress to rescue the struggling automakers seemed to generate more excitement locally yesterday than any of the models Detroit has produced in recent years.

Most people interviewed, including some who work for auto-related businesses, were critical of US car companies, saying they have been badly mismanaged for decades. But there were mixed feelings about the cost of bailing out the industry versus the price of withholding taxpayer dollars and letting it wither.

Hillary Devin, 45, a business traveler from Denver who lived in the automotive heartland of Michigan in the 1980s, said she understands both sides of the argument.

"If you don't bail out the auto industry, it would probably go bankrupt and fling a lot of people out of work," Devin said.

At the same time, however, she is not sympathetic to the plight of auto executives who ignored alternative-energy technologies for years while focusing on gas-guzzling vehicles like trucks and sport utility vehicles.

"They made bad decisions," she said. "For myself, if I made a bad financial decision, I don't have anyone who would bail me out."

Fred Hill, who works as an installer at American Auto Seat Cover Co. in Lowell, which upholsters cars for dealers and body shops, said he opposes pouring federal funds into Detroit's coffers.

He cited the compensation packages of the industry's managers and workers in contrast with taxpayers who would foot the bill.

"These workers get about 70 bucks an hour," Hill said. "I think maybe they should cut some of their wages down. A lot of these big executives, they make too much money, too. The economy's in bad times now, and I don't think it's going to get any better soon."

Several people said the government should impose stringent conditions on automakers before it moves forward with the requested loans, restricting the pay of top executives and requiring them to shift to investments in fuel-efficient vehicles.

"Hopefully, those big guys don't get that much money," said Matt Cheney, 25, an artist from Hingham.

Charley Ansty of Dedham, 46, an Environmental Protection Agency employee, said domestic automakers have long failed to make adjustments that would enable them to compete with Japanese companies like Toyota and Honda.

"Essentially, it's gross mismanagement," Ansty said. "Thirty years and they can't produce a fuel-efficient car."

But he said the bailout was necessary because otherwise too many people would be hurt. "We kind of had to do it, but it's a dangerous path to go down," Ansty said.

Erin Ailworth can be reached at; Robert Weisman at

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