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Chrysler workers rally to save Sterling Heights plant

September 26, 2009


Chrysler workers rally to save Sterling Heights plant




About 500 Chrysler workers, retirees and family members sang, chanted and prayed Friday afternoon for the company’s board of directors to reconsider closing the Sterling Heights assembly plant by the end of next year.

Meanwhile, the board met at Chrysler’s Auburn Hills headquarters to review a plan to update the company’s future cars and trucks.

The company had no comment about the board’s actions, but it is expected to provide details of its plan to President Barack Obama’s automotive task force as early as next week.

Those attending Friday’s rally were clear about why Chrysler should preserve the plant that produces its only midsize cars, Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger. Chrysler and Fiat excluded the Sterling Heights assembly plant and seven other factories from the taxpayer-financed bankruptcy sale to the new company, of which Fiat owns 20%.

"All of our taxes helped bail this company out," said employee Rebecca Suell. "Since the bankruptcy, there’s been no new products assigned to any of Chrysler’s U.S. plants."

The company plans to make the Fiat 500 minicar in Toluca, Mexico, and begin selling it in the United States by the end of 2011.

Sales of the 2009 Sebring and Avenger made in Sterling Heights have dropped by more than 50% through the first eight months of the year. Their sales increased last month because many customers participating in the cash-for-clunkers program wanted them, but inventories vanished and Chrysler could not restart production until the program’s last few days.

The plant eliminated its second shift in March 2008, and has been idle this year in January and all but two weeks between May 1 and Aug. 24.

CEO Sergio Marchionne has said Fiat has delivered to Chrysler a foundation for a new midsize car that will be shared among Chrysler, Dodge and Fiat’s Alfa Romeo brand.

The company has not said where those future cars would be assembled, but workers would like it to be built in Sterling Heights.

"This isn’t just about us," said Pat Johnson, an engineer on the assembly line. "We pay taxes here. We support local businesses here, and we build world-class quality cars. A lot of our jobs depend on each other."

Johnson’s coworker Rochelle Banks pointed to the shopping center across Van Dyke Avenue and said two or three restaurants have closed this year because of decreased business from plant workers on their 30-minute lunch breaks.

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