Veteran Chrysler watchers were suprised today when Daimler-Chrysler announced that it would cut 1,200 jobs from the Chrysler South Assembly Plant in Fenton, Mo. (Kevin Manning/P-D)
Workers at Chrysler's Fenton minivan plant learned Thursday that its second shift will end earlier than expected. The shift was scheduled for elimination in the second quarter of 2008, but instead it will end at the start of the year.
In February, the automaker announced it would cut 1,935 jobs through 2009 across its two assembly plants in Fenton. That included cutting the second shift — or 1,000 employees — at the minivan plant.
That shift is now scheduled to end New Year's Day, said Joe Shields, president of United Auto Workers Local 110. The local represents members from the South assembly plant, which assembles the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan minivans.
Shields was notified Thursday by plant management.t's something we've been trying to overcome, but sales are just down," Shields told the Post-Dispatch. Shields held an afternoon meeting with shop stewards who were to officially notify second-shift workers on Thursday evening during their regular shift.
A Chrysler spokeswoman couldn't be reached for comment on the new date. Earlier Thursday, she said the elimination would take place sometime in the first quarter.
Declining sales were also mentioned by Chrysler officials Thursday as the company announced a second round of job cuts. The automaker will cut from 8,500 to 10,000 hourly jobs, and 2,100 salaried jobs through 2008, or about 15 percent of its work force.
The cuts announced Thursday were in addition to the nationwide plan announced in February to cut 13,000 jobs.
Chrysler also said it will eliminate shifts at five North American assembly plants and cut four models, including the slow-selling PT Cruiser convertible, Dodge Magnum sports wagon, Chrysler Pacifica and Chrysler Crossfire.
Fenton's South plant and the adjacent North plant, which makes Dodge Ram pickups, were not affected by this second round of cuts.
Chrysler's sales fell 4 percent in the first 10 months of this year, and the company said it expects sluggish sales in 2008.
"We have to move now to adjust the way our company looks and acts to reflect a smaller market," Chrysler Vice Chairman and President Tom LaSorda said in a statement Thursday. "That means a cost base that is right-sized and an appropriate level of plant utilization."
Before the February announcement, about 3,200 people worked at the South plant and 2,330 at the North plant. By Feb. 28, the South plant had been reduced to 2,847 employees, while 1,775 workers were at the North plant, according to Chrysler.
Shields and many other workers were hoping a hot-selling new product would make the cuts unnecessary. The South plant assembles a redesigned minivan that was just launched in August.
Others hoped the company would delay or avoid a mass layoff after Chrysler completed a multimillion-dollar upgrade at the South plant during the summer. The change is supposed to improve the plants' efficiency and allow Chrysler to quickly respond to peaks and valleys in demand.
However, market factors push automakers to consider making such production changes on a monthly basis, said Kim Hill, director of the automotive communities program at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
"The automakers don't make a decision like (investing in the minivan plant) and (then) say, 'We don't have to worry about minivans for another two years,'" Hill said.
Hill said this market reality underscores the importance of having state and local development specialists who can regularly pay attention to the industry and lobby for their region's best interests.