Thursday, January 10, 2008

Chrysler offers new buyouts

Workers at Jefferson North, Illinois plants get bid as carmaker cuts back.

Eric Morath / The Detroit News

Workers at Chrysler LLC's Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit and at a factory in Illinois will be offered buyouts in the coming days, the automaker confirmed Tuesday.

The early-retirement and buyout programs spare the plants from mass layoffs, as the United Auto Workers-represented employees will depart willingly, rather than being forced out through layoffs.

Jefferson North, Belvidere Assembly Plant in Illinois, Toledo North Assembly, along with Sterling Heights Assembly and Brampton Assembly in Ontario, are all slated to lose a shift before the end of March, as Chrysler lowers production in response to falling demand for its products in the United States.

Toledo workers were offered packages last week. The Sterling Heights and Brampton plants are also expected to receive packages, but the timing is still to be determined.

"We are still working closely with the UAW on the rollout and specifics of those packages," said Chrysler spokeswoman Michelle Tinson. "Chrysler, along with the UAW, sees offering these programs as the socially responsible action for those facing layoffs."

Earlier this month, Chrysler said nearly 5,000 workers could be laid off at the five plants. That included 911 workers at Jefferson North and 1,146 workers at Sterling Heights, according to layoff notices filed with the state.

The automaker is likely aiming for at least enough workers to accept buyouts as were targeted for layoffs, but Chrysler is not publicly stating its employment-reduction goal. The reductions are part of Chrysler's November plan to eliminate 8,500 to 10,000 hourly jobs.

Two packages have or will be offered to eligible workers at Jefferson North, Toledo and Belvidere. The packages are the same as those offered to some workers after staffing cuts were announced last February.

The buyouts will purge employees from Chrysler's ranks, while layoffs would mean a continued obligation to the workers, said Richard Block, professor in the Michigan State University School of Labor and Industrial Relations. Laid-off workers receive 90 percent of their pay for 48 weeks.

"The reason why Chrysler is under pressure to (offer buyouts) is the job security agreements with the UAW," he said. Block said he expects many workers to take the offers -- something similar to the third of eligible employees who took buyouts from General Motors Corp. in recent years.

Belvidere Assembly worker Andy DeRose said he intends to snap up a buyout should he be offered one.

"It's not like it used to be, as far as a place to work," he said. "There is so much uncertainly in the auto industry it's incredible -- who knows if (Chrysler)

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