Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The gig is up for Kenosha’s auto workers

In 1986, Chrysler purchased American Motors/Jeep/Renault.

At that time, over 5500 people worked for AMC. AMC had been seriously deteriorating over the years, but somehow they hung on until Chrysler stepped in.

However, about a little over a year after purchasing AMC, Chrysler dealt a serious blow to our Kenosha engine plant. The plant was almost closed entirely- 4500 people were laid off.

Kenosha’s economy was devastated. At the same time, we were dealing with the autoworker layoffs, Snap On, Mac White and several other major employers were really having difficulties.

It took years for Kenosha’s economy to recover, but it finally did recover. Chrysler managed to maintain about over 1000 employees for years.

Now we have been clobbered again.

Over the last several years, both the media and our local politicians have been pumping Kenosha residents with thoughts of the Kenosha plant expanding and that Chrysler would be building a new plant in Somers.

All of these pipe dreams have since been smashed. The plant is down to 850 employees, with more layoffs coming in September.

Several months ago- Chrysler announced they were discontinuing the main engine line that Kenosha had been building for years. The line will be ended by September of this year.

Then we received word that the Somers plant that was needed to build the new engines, would not be built.

The Kenosha plant had hoped that they would get to build the new line.

After this recent announcement, it appears that the plans for building the new engine line in Kenosha are also in smashed.

I talked to several current and former employees at Chrysler. No one has a positive outlook. The consensus is that it is only a matter of time before the Kenosha plant is gone altogether. Now we know it will happen sooner rather than later.

Monday night, one of the current employees said that Chrysler has been trying to buy out all of the skilled labor positions for a long time. Their union has resisted the buyouts. Now , what reason does the union have to resist the buyouts?

The priority now should be protecting the Chrysler retirees. We have thousands and thousands of retired autoworkers living in Kenosha.

If the pension plans and the health care plan collapse, thousands of retired autoworkers will be financially devastated.

Not too long ago, Congressman Paul Ryan forced legislation thru Congress that would ensure that employers pay out the pension plans they had promised their employees.

I hope that this is enough to protect Kenosha’s retired autoworkers. If not, Congressman Ryan, Kenosha needs you more than ever.

Most in Kenosha are shocked that Chrysler engine plant has last 20 years. We expected the collapse to happen sooner.

It is time for our governor and our local political leaders to face reality.

The gig is up for Kenosha’s auto workers

1 comment:

jeff said...

It is hoped that the new owners of Chrysler are actually going to be in it for the long haul. The company is not publicly traded so the ability of the owners to look longer term is increased. So, it may not necessarily be doom and gloom either for Chrysler or Kenosha.

If the worst case happens and the plant shuts down, then the incoming Mayor working with the County Executive will just have to work that much harder on bringing other companies to Kenosha and/or promoting the establishment and growth of smaller area businesses.