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11:23 am
Tue June 10, 2014

GM shareholders are in Detroit, and so are protesters

GM protesters outside the Renaissance Center
Credit Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

GM shareholders meet today at the automaker’s Detroit headquarters—with protesters circling outside the Renaissance Center.

The protesters include family members of people who died in GM cars that have since been recalled.

GM has acknowledged 13 deaths as a result of faulty ignition switches. But victim’s advocates say that number is much higher, possibly more than 100.

Laura Christian’s daughter, Amber Marie Rose, died when the airbag in her 2005 Chevy Cobalt failed to deploy.

Christian says protesters want to remind owners of those cars that are part of GM’s massive, long-delayed recall, to get them fixed—or at least stay off the road until they do.

They’re also pushing for legislation that would make data about potential safety issues public earlier.

But Christian says they’re mostly there “providing a human face.”

“We lost somebody,” Christian says. “They’re in there talking about money. This isn’t about money to us. This is about the people that we lost.”

Christian says she wants GM held criminally liable for deaths resulting from defects the automaker knew about years ago.

But efforts to hold GM legally responsible, either criminally or through civil claims, are complicated by the “liability shield” GM has from its 2009 bankruptcy.

There’s now a legal division between the “old” and “new” GMs, which seriously limits a plaintiff’s ability to hold the company accountable for any infraction that occurred before 2009.

Frank Hammer, a retired GM worker and UAW leader, calls that liability shield “scandalous.”

“If any of us, through negligence, were responsible for the deaths of that many people…we couldn’t plead ‘that’s the old me,’ and get away with it,” Hammer says.

“GM has to own up to what old GM did, because that’s still GM.”

Protesters are also calling attention to an ongoing dispute between GM and some of its former workers in Colombia.

Those workers have been protesting since 2011, saying they were fired by GM after suffering serious work-related injuries.

“They formed an association, and they’ve been fighting to either regain their employment, or regain some compensation [for] medical expenses for surgeries and so on,” Hammer says. “And General Motors has basically turned a blind eye.”

GM has said the workers rejected generous compensation offers, and further dialogue with the group would be “unproductive.”