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Chrysler Canada Strike Idles U.S. Workers

September 15, 1987

DETROIT (AP) _ Thousands of Chrysler Corp. workers in the United States were forced to stay home Tuesday after 10,000 Canadian counterparts went on strike, sparking parts shortages and plant closings on both sides of the border.

Chrysler shut down its Belvidere, Ill., assembly plant, idling 2,200 workers, and sent home 585 of the 2,800 employees at its stamping plant in Warren, said Chrysler spokesman John Guiniven.

The Canadian strike began as Ford Motor Co. and the United Auto Workers extended talks for 24 hours beyond a strike deadline of midnight Monday. Canadian workers had sought to link pensions to the inflation rate.

The strike by the Canadian Auto Workers, which split with the UAW in 1985 to negotiate its own contracts, was sparking apprehension among Chrysler workers in this country, local union officials said.

″It caught everybody off guard,″ said Charles Nassar, financial secretary for UAW Local 869, which represents workers at the suburban Detroit stamping plant in Warren.

″There is support for the Canadian strike. But what worries (U.S. Chrysler workers) most is the extent of the layoffs,″ he said. ″We’ve heard that more layoffs are planned.″

But some U.S. Chrysler workers were miffed that a walkout by the relatively small CAW brings a threat of massive layoffs in this country.

″We wonder why they have the power to do that,″ said Harold Wheeler, 46, a forklift driver at the Warren stamping plant who once was laid off for three years.

″They (U.S. Chrysler workers) look at it as the Canada people going out over there and causing layoffs over here. They don’t have that unity with us anymore,″ Wheeler said.

Guiniven said the company had no plans as of Tuesday to close other Chrysler plants in the United States. Guiniven wouldn’t speculate on the long- term effects of the Canada walkout on the automaker’s overall operations.

Industry analysts, however, have said a lengthy strike in Canada could affect the automaker’s entire North American operations. Guiniven said plant closing decisions would be made on a day-to-day basis.

″A prolonged strike would be costly for (the) company and workers alike,″ said Gerald Greenwald, chairman of Chrysler Motors, the company’s car-making division.

Chrysler’s Ajax trim plant near Toronto supplies door panels and other trim parts for all but one U.S. Chrysler plant and all of the automaker’s full-size and mini-vans are made in Windsor, Ontario.

Guiniven noted that Chrysler’s St. Louis van plant, which makes a longer version of a mini-van, also is capable of producing the standard mini-van, but he wouldn’t say if Chrysler plans to make the switch.

The Canada walkout was bad news for workers at the Belvidere plant, which produces Chrysler New Yorker and Dodge Dynasty cars. The plant closed for retooling in March after discontinuing production of Omni and Horizon models and reopened in July.

″We don’t need a strike. We’re barely getting back on our feet now,″ said Nancy Kenkel, whose husband, Robert, was among the workers laid off during retooling.

The Belvidere plant’s first-shift workers were sent home after they began showing up Tuesday morning, said Robert Kruger, president of United Auto Workers Local 1268.

″It’s not going to be easy,″ he said. ″We support the Canadian workers in their efforts to get a fair contract.″

United Auto Workers spokesman Bob Barbee said laid-off U.S. Chrysler workers would qualify for unemployment compensation and Supplemental Unemployment Benefits that would represent about 95 percent of their regular wages.

Canadian Auto Workers President Bob White predicted a long strike.