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Chrysler plant told it will lose shift

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McClatchy-Tribune
October 29, 2007
— Chrysler plans to end the third shift at its Belvidere, Ill., assembly plant, which could put as many as 1,000 employees out of work, a high-level United Auto Workers official told stunned members Friday.

Chrysler would not confirm the report, but rumors have been circulating for weeks that the third shift, added in July 2006, would end by Christmas. Union officials typically are advised of such plans before company announcements to workers.


A worker who attended the meeting said Garry Mason, an executive assistant to UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, shocked them by saying that sluggish sales of the three vehicles built at Belvidere—Dodge Caliber and Jeep Compass and Patriot—meant “the third shift was gone” as if that news was common knowledge.


“There was a gasp in the room,” said the worker, who asked not to be named. “Everyone was like, ‘Huh?’ This was the first time there had been anything official about it. It was a real eye-opener.”


Another Local 1268 member who was at the meeting said Mason displayed “a deer-in-the-headlights look” when he realized they hadn’t been told. Both workers said Mason didn’t say when the shift would end or how many workers would be affected.


“After that, he backpedaled and just changed


the subject and talked about why the contract is so good,” one said. “He just kept avoiding the subject.”


Mason was in Belvidere to drum up support for union’s four-year contract with Chrysler, which appeared headed for ratification before Local 1268 members voted. About 55 percent of Local 1268 members casting ballots voted the contract down, the union announced Saturday.


Mason’s statement about the third shift appeared first on a Web site forum maintained by Local 1268 members.


Efforts to reach Mason Friday evening were unsuccessful, and Local 1268 President Tom Littlejohn did not return phone calls. According to workers at the meeting, Littlejohn said he had not been notified that the third shift was ending.


Chrysler spokeswoman Michelle Tinson said only that “from the company’s standpoint, we have no comment.”


Workers expect the shift to shut down before Christmas so Chrysler doesn’t have to pay laid-off workers during the holidays, when assembly plants are idled for a week or longer.


The Belvidere assembly plant and a nearby stamping plant employ 3,800, including a couple hundred from Rock County. It also employs 600 temporary workers who would be the first to go because they aren’t covered by job security provisions of the UAW’s contract. Permanent employees would be laid off based on lowest seniority. However, not all 1,000 third-shift workers will necessarily lose their jobs.


One who expects to be cut is Jim Doser of Rockford, Ill., hired as a temp in April 2006.


“It’s over and done for us,” said Doser, who works the third shift. “I’d just like to move on, and I hope I find something else.”


Doser said he voted against the contract without hearing Mason’s presentation because he knew the agreement did not provide permanent jobs for the temps.


“I simply went and voted no,” he said. “There are a lot of people with bitter feelings about this.”


Chrysler spent $419 million in 2005 to renovate the Belvidere plant to a flexible manufacturing facility to produce multiple models on the same assembly line. The three models built there use the same platform and mechanical features but have different styling.


Still, slow sales caused a recent two-week shutdown of the plant to keep inventories in check.


Analyst Catherine Madden said Chrysler is moving quickly to match production to demand.


“Ultimately, that’s not a surprise if you look at the vehicles they’re building there and their performance in the marketplace,” she said of the third shift.


Sales of the Caliber, introduced in January 2006, have declined five of the last six months. Compass sales fell 21 percent last month from August, and Patriot was down 13 percent.


Chrysler also is looking to pare its product lineup and could cut several models by early next year, said Madden, who tracks production trends for industry forecaster Global Insight.


Compass is a candidate to go because it’s the only Jeep that’s not off-road rated and thus out of character with the brand.


“There’s no doubt the Compass has been a poor performer in the marketplace and did not meet their expectations,” she said. Madden also says lists the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Aspen, Dodge Magnum and Jeep Commander as on the bubble.



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