Tester slams G.M. for pulling Stillwater Mine contract
Company ‘exists today because of taxpayers,’ Senator reminds colleagues
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester today slammed General Motors on the floor of the U.S. Senate today, one day after a federal judge upheld the automaker’s plan to nullify its contract with Montana’s Stillwater Mine.
“I would have a big problem under any circumstances for an American corporate icon to choose foreign suppliers over a viable American option,” Tester said. “But when we consider that General Motors only exists today due to the direct assistance of American taxpayers, this decision is appalling and weakens our American manufacturing base.”
Stillwater Mine—in south-central Montana—is America’s only producer of palladium, which is used to make catalytic converters for cars and trucks. Catalytic converters filter pollution from vehicle exhaust.
General Motors recently emerged from bankruptcy after receiving $50 billion from American taxpayers. The company now wants to purchase its palladium from Russia and South Africa.
In 2008, Tester voted against a multi-billion dollar bailout of G.M. and other American automotive companies in part because he wasn’t convinced the money would be used to create American jobs.
“Maybe they don’t care about placing American jobs at risk, but the fact is, I do, and we do, and they should,” Tester said on the Senate Floor. “Mr. President, I cannot express adequately today the disappointment that I’ve had—and that I have—with G.M.’s decision to negate its contract with Stillwater. It is part of that manufacturing base that I think is so critically important to this country. And they’re turning their back on it.”
On Wednesday, Tester and Senator Max Baucus wrote to G.M. CEO Fritz Henderson, saying they’re “deeply disappointed” by the company’s decision to nullify its contract with Stillwater Mine. The senators urged Henderson to reconsider the decision.
Stillwater Mine employs more than 1,300 Montanans.
Tester’s floor speech, as prepared for delivery, appears below.
U.S. Senator Jon Tester
July 23, 2009
Mr. President, I want to take some time this morning to speak about a dire situation in Columbus, Montana. At this moment there are 1,300 employees of Stillwater Mining Company who are going to work wondering about the future of their company and the future of their jobs.
Yesterday, a bankruptcy court in New York nullified a contract between Stillwater Mine—the only palladium and platinum producer in the United States—and General Motors.
General Motors petitioned the bankruptcy court to drop its precious metals contract with the Montana mining company so it can instead use foreign, cheaper suppliers based in outside this country, based specifically Russia and South Africa.
I would have a big problem under any circumstances for an American corporate icon to choose foreign suppliers over a viable American option. But when we consider that General Motors only exists today due to the direct assistance of American taxpayers, this decision is appalling and weakens our American manufacturing base.
As a member of the Senate Banking Committee, I attended the marathon hearings late last year where the domestic automakers pleaded for government assistance.
On November 18 of last year, I relayed to the executives from Ford, Chrysler and, yes, G.M., on the importance of spending taxpayer funds in the United States.
I said, “I would have to ask, where's the money going to be spent, who is it going to be spent on, and what country is it going to be spent in? Because those are all critically important questions. If we're using taxpayer dollars, from my perspective, it ought to be spent here in the U.S.”
In response, I was assured that taxpayer funds would be spent domestically to rebuild the auto manufacturers. By negating Stillwater’s contract, General Motors is not investing domestically. They are not investing in American jobs. They are not investing in this country. And it goes against the grain when we see a viable company, that recently got in trouble like G.M., go against what they told me in Committee.
When General Motors came pleading to the U.S. Senate late last year, they spoke of the fate of their employees but they also spoke of the fate of small parts manufacturers, miners, dealerships and all other interconnected businesses that are dependent on General Motors.
I voted against giving taxpayer dollars to the auto manufacturers—just as I voted against the Wall Street bailout. The auto manufactures didn’t convince me they would spend the money wisely and that they would spend it in the United States. I wish I was wrong—but they are not spending the taxpayer dollars wisely in my opinion, and they are not spending taxpayer dollars in the United States.
It is the folks at Stillwater—just like many auto dealerships in Montana and across rural America—who are hurting.
With its $50 billion in taxpayer funds, General Motors recently emerged out of bankruptcy. And with its first repayment on the $50 billion owed to the American taxpayer, the new G.M. has decided to dump its only domestic supplier of palladium. And they have failed to present a significant need to do business with foreign suppliers when they can contract with a company right here in America that employs more than 1,300 hard-working Americans.
For the last decade, Stillwater has supplied G.M. with palladium and rhodium, which are used to make catalytic converters that filter pollutants from vehicle exhaust. The palladium sales to the auto companies accounted for 42.8 percent of Stillwater’s revenue last year.
General Motors’ rejection of its contract with Stillwater will result in company losses of about $500,000 per month, and almost certainly means losing countless good-paying American jobs. And those American jobs, in this case, happen to be in Montana.
Stillwater is one of Montana’s largest employers. And the economic well being of 1,300 Montanans at Stillwater that work the mines in Nye and Big Timber, Montana, is no doubt in serious trouble. G.M.’s actions threaten the well-being of families, numerous small communities and dozens of interconnected Montana-based businesses.
Immediately after the court ruled against Stillwater’s employees, I joined with the senior Senator from Montana, Max Baucus, in urging General Motors to reconsider their decision to choose foreign suppliers over a proven domestic partner. I still hope that they make the right decision and realize that the new G.M. only exists today because of American taxpayers. Taxpayers like the Montanans who work at Stillwater Mine.
Maybe they don’t care about placing American jobs at risk. But I do. And we do. And they should.
Mr. President, I cannot express adequately today the disappointment that I’ve had—and that I have—with G.M.’s decision to negate its contract with Stillwater. It is part of that manufacturing base that I think is so critically important to this country. And they’re turning their back on it.
With that, I yield the floor, Mr. President.