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Auto Workers Upbeat About Merger

May 7, 1998

DETROIT (AP) _ Hours after Chrysler Corp. and Daimler-Benz confirmed they were merging, assembly workers in the Motor City seemed unperturbed that the company could be mixing a little sauerkraut into its meat-and-potatoes image.

``One day we’re Chrysler. The next day we’re merging with Mercedes-Benz,″ Willie McCrimmon said this morning as he headed for work at Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant. ``It strengthens what’s already strong.″

Chrysler, the No. 3 U.S. automaker, and Germany’s Daimler-Benz _ a diversified manufacturing company whose holdings include Mercedes-Benz automobiles _ confirmed the $38 billion deal today.

Bruce Smith, a manager in the metal shop at Jefferson North, where Chrysler builds the highly popular and profitable Jeep Grand Cherokee sport utility vehicle, called the merger ``a good news story all around.″

``It propels us into being the fifth-largest automaker in the world and it will help Chrysler’s business in Europe,″ Smith said. ``If I had any inkling, I would have bought more stock. I think this is fine for Chrysler.″

Added McCrimmon, a truck driver who owns 400 shares of Chrysler: ``It made my day when I heard this yesterday.″

Not all the reaction was positive. Even McCrimmon said he was concerned about the possibility of layoffs or plant closings, which the two companies said today were not currently planned.

Another Jefferson North worker who refused to give her name said: ``I am kind of concerned. They say there’ll be no changes, but that’s what they say now.″

Overall, though, it seemed that few Detroiters were perturbed by the deal.

``We’re bringing the two sides together, you know? They can learn from us and we can learn from them,″ Angela Charley, 32, said as she left her Wednesday afternoon shift at Jefferson North.

Former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca led the charge to ``Buy American″ in the 1980s, when 25 percent of the U.S. market was controlled by Japan.

In one 1990 commercial, Iacocca looks sternly at his board members and reminds them that America’s cars are just as good as Japan’s.

``Nobody knows it, and that’s going to change,″ Iacocca said.

With American automakers earning record profits, that mood of defensiveness has cooled somewhat. Still, a trip to Detroit’s Belle Isle Park, where cruisers still reign on warm nights, confirms Detroit’s love affair with the Big Three. Only two Mercedes automobiles were seen Wednesday among crowds of Jeeps, Buicks and Cadillacs.

``Anything that helps Detroit, I’m all for, because the decline in the auto industry has really hurt Detroit,″ said Ulysses Allen, who drives a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

``I’m looking forward to seeing the Big Three get on their feet,″ added Allen, 31.

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