St. Louis workers protest at Chrysler HQ

Thursday, August 14, 2008 | 6:00 p.m. CDT; updated 6:09 p.m. CDT, Thursday, August 14, 2008

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Several hundred Chrysler manufacturing workers, many of whom face imminent layoffs in St. Louis, protested outside the company's headquarters Thursday.

Workers are angered by Chrysler's plan to close a minivan plant in Fenton on Oct. 31 and to remove a shift from a separate Fenton truck plant in September. About 2,500 jobs will be affected by the actions.

"It's hard to watch," said Mike Roy, 23, who works at the truck plant. "It seems we've given everything we can possibly give them and we've gotten nothing in return."

Roy, who drove 12 hours to attend the rally, said he doesn't yet know if he will be laid off. He recently took the job at the truck plant after being laid off from the minivan plant.

Chrysler says the cuts are necessary because rising gas prices and the weak economy have led to a steep decline in U.S. minivan and truck sales. Minivan sales were down 18 percent in the first seven months of this year, while full-size pickup truck sales fell 25 percent.

"The action is painful. The decision is absolutely difficult," Chrysler spokeswoman Mary Beth Halprin said. "This was a direct reflection of how the market has changed."

She said no representatives from the company were planning to speak to the protesters.

Halprin said the company has been talking regularly with the United Auto Workers union about options for workers, including transfers to other Chrysler plants and early retirement offers. The company has said it has no plans to reopen the minivan plant because it has enough capacity to meet demand at its minivan factory in Windsor, Ontario. Chrysler also has additional pickup truck capacity in Warren, Mich., and Saltillo, Mexico.

Workers are angered that Chrysler is keeping jobs in Canada and Mexico. Many chanted "USA" during the rally and held signs saying, "Chrysler, how dare you idle St. Louis and continue to run three shifts in Canada."

Organizers were expecting 500 protesters, including 10 busloads from St. Louis.

Deloris McCall, 65, a Chrysler retiree who drove to the rally from Twinsburg, Ohio, said she feels betrayed by free trade agreements that allow Chrysler to pay workers less in other countries.

"I want everybody worldwide to have a decent living," she said. "The way it is now, these younger people will never be able to own a home or buy a decent vehicle."

Halprin said labor costs were only one factor in Chrysler's decision. Windsor, where the first Chrysler minivans were made in 1983, has always been the primary manufacturing location for minivans, she said, and the St. Louis minivan plant was only opened to support Windsor's production when sales skyrocketed in the late 1980s. Similarly, the St. Louis truck plant has always been considered a supplement to the company's other truck factories.

"The St. Louis facilities were opened to support growing demand," she said.

Chrysler, which has a lineup that is heavily dependent on trucks and sport utility vehicles, has been hit hard by the decline in U.S. sales, and the layoffs in St. Louis are only a portion of the cuts the company plans. Over the past 18 months, Chrysler has announced plans to cut 29,000 hourly, salaried and temporary jobs.



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