Monday, September 10, 2007

Uncertainty is the only sure thing for autoworker
Chrysler job often unstable

(MADALYN RUGGIERO/Special to the Free Press)

Dan Petersen, 56, from Curtice, Ohio, hangs out on his front porch . He has been working for the past 37 years and is worried about retiring. "I sit on my porch and watch the world go by," he said.


Dan Petersen

Age: 56

Hometown: Curtice, Ohio

Company: Chrysler LLC, 37 years' seniority.

Plant: Toledo Machining in Perrysburg, Ohio.

Job: Floor inspector.

Background: Raised on a farm in rural Ohio, landed a job at Chrysler shortly after high school.

Thoughts on the contract talks: "We don't get much information. ... You just go in and do the best job you can do and pray things work out."

In Dan's own words

Dan Petersen, a 56-year-old Chrysler worker from Curtice, Ohio, said he wants to help his company succeed, but he’s tired of UAW workers being blamed for the company’s problems.

Dan Petersen, a 56-year-old worker at Chrysler LLC's Toledo Machining Plant, said he's eager to see what comes of the UAW negotiations with the automakers, but he won't be waiting until midnight Friday as the contract expires to see what, if any, details are released.

"I can't stay up that late; I get up at 4 in the morning," said Petersen, who tends to cows on a small family farm each day before heading to work.

If Petersen stayed up late every time his work life was in limbo at Chrysler, he would never get any sleep. Uncertainty is part of the job for autoworkers, particularly those at a facility like Toledo Machining that makes parts for the final assembly plants.

For more than a decade, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and Chrysler have steadily spun out or outsourced parts production to companies that pay workers lower wages and offer less generous benefits.

Toledo Machining, which employs 1,500, still makes steering columns and torque converters, but the possibility of Chrysler closing or selling the plant has been speculated since the last contract in 2003.

Working for Chrysler always has been a roller coaster ride, Petersen said. Raised on a farm in Curtice, a small town east of Toledo, he got his first job at Chrysler in 1969.

He was laid off from 1979 to 1985 during the oil crisis. Chrysler then came back strong in the 1990s, thanks to SUVs, minivans and a redesigned Ram truck.

But the Detroit automakers have entered difficulties again, losing a combined $15 billion last year. Petersen said he wants Chrysler to make money, but he and his colleagues have a hard time figuring out just how bad things are, he said.

Chrysler, Ford and GM push hard for wage and benefits cuts well ahead of contract talks, Petersen said. They seem to have a campaign to condition workers to accept that concessions are inevitable, he said.

"I think they've got psychiatrists and psychoanalysts on staff," Petersen said. "For the last couple of years, they put a little snippet in the paper here and there. ... After people read that for a while, they get it in their head 'I'm going to have to take something.' I really think they play with your mind over a period of time."

He's glad to have the UAW on his side, but it's hard to get a read on the UAW, too, Petersen said. Few details flow down to the rank-and-file workers, he said.

"We don't get much information. You just go in and do the best job you can do and pray things work out," he said.

As these contracts near an end, Petersen said he is grateful all of his children are out of high school. He and his wife, Ruth, have three children, ages 18 to 28. One is a school teacher, another is studying to be an aircraft mechanic and the youngest is a communications major at an Ohio university.

With more than 37 years' seniority, Petersen could retire, but he's worried the company could make changes to pension payouts and retiree benefits.

He would rather keep working and save more money. "What if I screw up and live another 30 years?" he asked.

No comments: