Cut in worker benefits adds to economic turmoil

The slumping economy is beginning to crack the foundations of employee benefits, with such bellwether companies as General Motors Corp. leading the way.

The carmaker, which is seeking a financial bailout from Congress, is cutting back company contributions to employees’ 401(k) retirement accounts and eliminating health-care benefits for its salaried retirees.

GM plans to eliminate medical benefits for salaried retirees age 65 and older on Jan. 1. Given the severity of its financial problems, the automaker says it simply no longer can afford to provide full coverage for its retirees.

Even before the credit crisis that further crippled the auto industry, GM said in July that it would cut nonunion retiree health benefits as part of a plan to bolster liquidity by $15 billion through 2009. Rivals Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC already have cut costs from retiree benefits for the white-collar work force.

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