Thursday, March 13, 2008

Chrysler buyout count short


UAW Vice President General Holiefield

declined to say whether Chrysler will

make its minimum goal of 8,500 workers.

Automaker had hoped 10,000 would exit


Chrysler LLC, which is trying to reduce its hourly workforce, is unlikely to meet its goal of cutting 10,000 workers through its latest buyout and early retirement packages, a top UAW leader said Wednesday, further illustrating challenges Detroit automakers face convincing people to leave good-paying jobs during tough times.

I don't think we will get quite 10,000," UAW Vice President General Holiefield, who heads the union's Chrysler Department, told reporters while on a visit to the automaker's Conner Avenue Assembly Plant in Detroit. "With the economy the way it is, people are trying to hang on to what they have."

He declined to say whether the automaker will make its minimum goal of getting rid of 8,500 hourly workers. He said it will be clearer in a few weeks how well the program has worked.

David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research, agreed that workers contemplating buyout packages may have concerns about what they would do next.

"The environment today is such that a bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush: I've got a job, even though I get the money, it may not be that easy to get a job that is close to what I have here," Cole said of people's thinking. "The other part of it is if I wait a little bit more, I may get more" as an incentive to leave.

Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. also are trying to trim their hourly workforces. Ford hopes to reduce its workforce by at least 8,000 while GM has not said how many workers it hopes to cut.

Some Ford workers have told the Free Press they don't think the automaker will reach its buyout goals.

Holiefield said the union and Chrysler might have to talk about getting creative with the buyout packages to get more people to accept them. "So far I think they are doing pretty good," he said.

In November, Chrysler announced it wanted to eliminate as many as 8,500 to 10,000 hourly jobs. The eliminations come on top of a February 2007 plan to eliminate 11,000 hourly jobs over three years.

"We're working closely with the UAW to offer additional programs," Chrysler spokeswoman Michele Tinson said, noting that workers at the automaker's Mopar parts division have not yet been offered packages. She declined to talk about how many people had signed up for buyout packages.

Deadlines have passed for thousands of Chrysler workers who were offered packages, which included lump-sum payments of $70,000 or $100,000.

The plan offered in February also called for Chrysler's Newark, Del., assembly plant to be idled in 2009.

On Wednesday, Holiefield said he hopes the union will be able to convince Chrysler to keep the plant going. "As long as that plant is running, there is hope -- we never say die," he said.

Tinson said: "We're always willing to explore a business case, however at this point in time it still remains the plan on record to close the facility by 2009. There's no future product for that facility at this time."

Holiefield was at the Conner plant Wednesday to celebrate the 25,000th Dodge Viper to roll off the assembly line, which was presented to NASCAR driver Kurt Busch.

Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli handed Busch the keys after greeting workers. He left without answering questions from reporters.

Before doing so, Nardelli said he would like a Viper. "I aspire -- someday -- to own a Viper. Now, I don't know who I have to see to try to get an order placed," he joked.

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