Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Chrysler mum on number of workers taking buyout offers

By Alex Gary and The Associated Press
Chrysler LLC doesn’t plan to announce the number of workers taking its latest buyout offers for several more weeks, even though the company is planning to eliminate a shift in Belvidere by March 7, a company spokeswoman said today.

As of Monday, hourly workers at 11 of Chrysler’s U.S. facilities had been scheduled to decide on the offers, which include a $70,000 incentive payment to retirement-eligible workers or $100,000 to workers who agree to leave without future pension or health benefits.

Four assembly sites — Toledo North in Toledo, Ohio; St. Louis North and South in Fenton, Mo.; Jefferson North in Detroit, and Belvidere, where the Dodge Caliber, Jeep Patriot and Jeep Compass are assembled, had January deadlines to make decisions. Seven additional plants in Michigan had a Monday deadline.

Chrysler spokeswoman Michelle Tinson said workers at other plants are still considering the buyouts. Workers at five plants in Indiana and Wisconsin have until Feb. 25 to make a decision, while workers at an assembly plant in Newark, Del., which is scheduled to close next year, have until March 10. Buyout deals are still being negotiated for Chrysler’s Mopar parts unit, Tinson said.

The buyouts, and how many took them, are a hot topic in Belvidere because of the shift elimination, which will cut the plant’s work force from about 3,600 back to 2,500.

About 600 employees at the plant are working on temporary contracts with no seniority and will be the first to be eliminated. Another 500 workers transferred in from other operations. Some of those workers lost their seniority by transferring and would be the next to go. Workers in both these groups are hoping enough of the more-tenured employees took the buyouts to save their jobs.

Chrysler, which is in the midst of a restructuring after a majority stake in the automaker was sold last summer to private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP, announced in November it planned to cut up to 12,000 jobs, including 8,000 to 10,000 hourly and 2,000 salaried jobs.

The cuts came in addition to 13,000 layoffs Chrysler announced in February 2007, including 11,000 hourly and 2,000 salaried workers. About 6,400 hourly workers had left the company under that program as of June, but additional retirement packages could still be rolled out under that program, which was scheduled to run through 2009.

Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. announced similar buyout programs for tens of thousands of hourly workers represented by the United Auto Workers union.

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