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Chrysler's Shake-up Leads To Waning Worker’s Confidence

Chrysler is undergoing one significant shake-up and it is resulting to the waning of its workers’ confidence in the future. Lately, two engine plants of the automaker on Detroit’s east side reported a decline in production and such is causing a serious aftermath to workers.

Lorenzo Poole, president of the United Auto Workers Local 51, representing 1,500 workers at Chrysler's Mack I and Mack II engine plants, sent a temperate 3-page letter to his members. The letter states in part: "Unfortunately most of the news is not very good news for us in UAW Local 51. We have been bombarded with massive layoffs at Mack I and tons of rumors and uncertainty at Mack II. The Chinese are coming and our German parent company probably wishes that they never took us over, or merged."

The workers of the engine parts are on the edge as Chrysler Group executives, a unit of DaimlerChrysler AG, get ready to announce a major downsizing which is scheduled on February 14. Part of the downsizing effects includes plant closings, job cuts and production slowdowns. Poole offered the Chrysler’s workers a scant reassurance that their place in the industry worldwide is secure.

"It's a somber mood. It's a helpless kind of feeling," said Terry Ammons, worker at Mack I and a Detroit resident. At Mack I, 250 workers were laid off indefinitely and they have cleaned out their lockers to prepare to leave. "It's just hard for me to realize that I wasn't going back to work today," said Joe Wisniewski, one of the laid off workers. "I kind of looked up and it was almost 3 p.m. and I just said, 'This is how it's going to be. I'm not going to work today and I'm not going to work tomorrow.”

Mack 1’s daily production of the 4.7-liter engines has declined to 850 engines from 1,350. In addition, the plant’s work force has fallen to 530 from 780. At Mack II, the daily production of 3.7-liter V-6 engines is expected to drop to 1,400 from 1,600 units. "With the industry conditions, there is no guarantee when these members will work for DaimlerChrysler again," Poole wrote.

Mack I and II are producing engines for the Jeep Commander, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, Dodge Dakota, Dodge Durango and Dodge Ram. These engines are designed to blend with Active Brakes Direct to promote efficiency of the vehicles. These vehicles were overbuilt in 2006. The excess of the production were stacked up in lots around Metro Detroit.

"Long-term future for both plants continues to be our main concern as we await the DaimlerChrysler restructuring plan that is promised by (Chrysler CEO) Tom LaSorda," wrote Poole.

Chrysler earlier released a statement to respond to queries about the possible plant closures. "We continue to evaluate our operations in an effort to remain competitive," said spokeswoman Michelle Tinson. "As stated previously, the company will announce restructuring actions aimed at sustainable growth once approved by the board of management."

Workers at the two engine plants are aware that their future is misted up by the market shift toward smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles. "We're at the mercy of the economy of the American consumer," Ammons added. "If you buy a truck or SUV, we're in business. If you don't then the production count goes down and they're going to have to do further cuts."

Personally, Ammons does not feel his own job at risk because his 33 years of seniority has given him the opportunity to retire if plants are closed or more layoffs are made. But he worries about his coworkers. "There's a bond between us," concluded Ammons, recounting the eight-hour shifts and overtime weekends spent with colleagues. "You definitely have some feelings as far as when that person is losing their job."

About the Author: Anthony Fontanelle is a 35-year-old automotive buff who grew up in the Windy City. He does freelance work for an automotive magazine when he is not busy customizing cars in his shop.

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