Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chrysler to stop assisting salaried workers with tuition


Chrysler LLC is suspending its tuition-assistance program that has helped salaried workers pay for higher education, the Free Press has learned.

"Considering current economic conditions, and consistent with our continuous actions to improve our business and return to profitability, we have had to make the difficult decision to indefinitely suspend the tuition-assistance programs for all salary" non-bargaining-unit employees, a message to white-collar workers said.

Max Gates, a Chrysler spokesman, confirmed the announcement was made late Tuesday.

Workers already in classes or already approved for classes will get their reimbursements, Gates said.

But workers who are midway through a degree program will have to figure out another way to pay if they want to complete the program.

"There will be no new course work approved," Gates said.

Gates said the company hopes the program will be reinstated, but "if and when, of course, is still to be determined."

Chrysler isn't the first company to cut its tuition program. Ford Motor Co. has done the same.

Chrysler declined to say how many of the 14,400 eligible employees took advantage of the program or how many people would be affected. The company also declined to say how much the perk was worth.

Chrysler is struggling to fix its business amid dramatic U.S. sales drops.

So far this year, the Auburn Hills automaker's U.S. sales are down 22% -- more than twice the industry rate -- and Chrysler has indicated that its auto business lost $431 million during the first 3 months of this year. Chrysler executives insist the company is meeting its financial goals and has plenty of cash to operate, fighting off rumors of possible bankruptcy.

Since February 2007, the automaker has announced the elimination of more than 28,000 jobs and plans to close two assembly plants.

Last week, Chrysler announced it would stop offering new leases to customers through its financial arm as the resale value of SUVs and trucks plummets, making such transactions riskier.

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