Thursday, December 20, 2007

Chrysler may lay off 200 workers

UAW salaried staffers targeted

Chrysler LLC, facing a slowing U.S. auto market, plans to indefinitely lay off 200 or more salaried union members Friday, the Free Press has learned from internal UAW memos and people familiar with the situation.

The Auburn Hills automaker, which is expected to lose about $1.6 billion this year, has already announced plans to eliminate as many as 25,000 jobs and presumably these cuts would be part of that total.Last summer 7,100 workers were granted buyout packages to leave the company voluntarily and another round of buyout packages were offered to white-collar workers to leave the company in two waves -- first at the end of November followed by another round at the end of this month. The effort is believed to be aimed at reducing the white collar workforce by 1,000.

An automaker is traditionally allowed to lay off union members because of volume-related issues and the union workers continue to receive a percentage of their pay while not working.

Chrysler workers likely affected by the layoffs told the Free Press that they had been offered buyout packages by Chrysler but that the offers had been rescinded.

Salaried union designers were warned of the layoffs in memorandums sent by UAW Local 412 leaders and obtained by the Free Press.

Nervous workers have begun referring to the end of the week as Black Friday.

"The company's initial plan is for the layoffs to occur before the holidays," UAW Local 412 Unit 1 Chairman Rich Harter warned his members in a recent letter. "International is attempting to delay any cuts until after the new year and continue discussions in an attempt to stop them altogether."

He said one estimate was that the layoffs could affect more than 250 people. Another person familiar with the plan pegged the number around 200.

Michael Norscia, chairman of Local 412's Unit 80, delivered a similar warning to his members via an e-mail obtained by the Free Press.

"I have just been informed by Chrysler Labor Relations Mike Ellison that our Unit 80 will be effected by a volume-related layoff," Norscia said. "He did not give me any headcount numbers but will give them to us as soon as possible."

A Chrysler spokesman declined comment.

Chrysler's plan left UAW leaders unhappy and they apparently argued to the company that contract designers should be cut instead.

"It was established we currently have a sufficient number of direct designers sitting idle or with light workloads that would allow us to immediately shift the work assignments of contract employees performing the exact work assignments to direct employees, or hire them per the intent of the 'Salary Bargaining Unit New Hire Plan' letter," Harter told members. "We identified a conservative 52 such contract employees. Regardless of these facts, Labor Relations and Management made it very clear they are going to pursue their previous agenda of eliminating union designer numbers within Chrysler."

Local 412 leaders argued that the national labor agreement, which was recently ratified, protects workers from such layoffs in this case, but Chrysler officials disagreed, citing an unpublished side-letter to the 2003 contract, according to a letter from UAW Local 412 leadership to UAW International leaders detailing the situation. The letter was obtained by the Free Press.

"The company is moving very quickly on many different fronts without any regard to the new contractual agreements," the Local 412 letter warned.

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