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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Roger Smith’s Pension

Elmer Johnson, a former high official of General Motors and a leading heir-designate to head the giant company before he was pushed out for being too candid about GM’s deficiencies, called the GM Board of Directors a rubber stamp for CEO Roger Smith. Last week at his last shareholders meeting, Roger Smith got what he wanted from his board once again. He got his pension doubled.

This is no ordinary executive pension. Roger Smith will receive $600 an hour for life for doing nothing. He will receive over $21,000 per week. What for?

Here is what for: When Roger Smith took over GM as CEO in 1981, GM had 45.9 percent of the total market, counting imports. GM now has around 35 percent of the total market. In 1981 he said he would increase GM’s market share to over 50 percent before he left his position.

When Roger Smith took over, he made local history by getting the city of Detroit to condemn and destroy a community in east Detroit called Poletown for a new automated GM plant. Some 3500 people lived there — an integrated neighborhood–with their well-kept little homes, dozens of small businesses, twelve churches, schools and a hospital. GM also maneuvered a taxpayer subsidy package from local, state and federal governments worth $350 million. The plant employs half the number of workers GM promised the city and has been repeatedly plagued and shut down due to wayward robots gumming up the works.

When Roger Smith took office, Ronald Reagan sent him a “wish list” to be filled out for deregulation actions. Roger asked that the 5 mph bumper protection standard be weakened to 2 1/2 mph. Reagan obliged and billions of dollars in preventable low-level collision damage to cars poured into higher auto insurance premiums.

When Roger Smith took over, he turned his back on former GM president, Ed Cole, who wanted to see all GM cars, vans and light trucks equipped with standard, full front air bags. Roger opposed air bags by unleashing his lobbyists in Washington. Only after Chrysler started putting driver-side air bags in their cars last year as standard equipment, did the stubborn Smith give a partial OK for his managers to offer air bags in some models–and at an exorbitant price.

GM is far behind Chrysler and Ford in the percentage of their fleet with air bags. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of casualties occurred which could have been prevented this decade if Roger was an industrial leader instead of a Washington carper.

In recent months, Roger’s lobbyists have been pressuring to weaken the Clean Air Act legislation in Congress, in conjunction with their long-time ally, Cong. John Dingell of Michigan. Under Reagan’s term, Roger always got what he wanted–a virtual blockade against any new auto safety standards, annual waivers from meeting fuel-efficiency standards, and anemic enforcement of smog control rules at a time of choking urban pollution.

When Smith took office he presided over annual GM cancer research awards to medical scientists, while many of his workers, due to executive indifference, were getting cancer due to toxic fumes in such areas as factory paint shops.

While Smith was in office, his company tried to force several Michigan towns to cut GM’s property taxes from 30 to 75 percent. In Flint and Warren and Pontiac, Michigan, the dominant GM plants could crumble the municipal budgets if they got away with this callous move. Fortunately, most of these towns, facing cuts in school, fire, police and other budgets, fought back to stall this power play.