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Workers Rally Outside Plant to Close in a Week

January 26, 1990

DETROIT (AP) _ Hundreds of autoworkers chanting ″Lay off Lee″ rallied in the rain Thursday outside a Chrysler Corp. plant scheduled to close next week.

The United Auto Workers protest, with its pointed references to Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca, comes amid a deepening slide in the auto industry that has resulted in thousands of layoffs around the country in advance of talks on a new UAW contract later this year.

The closing of Chrysler’s Jefferson Avenue plant on Feb. 2 is part of a series of plant closings or indefinite production cuts scheduled at General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler plants nationwide.

The 1,700 people who will lose their jobs at the Jefferson Avernue plant are among 13,500 workers at 11 GM and Chrysler plants who will get indefinite layoff notices between January and March.

Another 33,600 workers will be idled for at least a week at 20 GM, Ford or Chrysler assembly plants.

The layoffs are being blamed on slow sales, high inventory and shrinking orders from auto dealers.

The two-hour demonstration was organized by an ad hoc group made up mostly of UAW dissidents belonging to the so-called New Directions movement.

One of New Directions’ leaders, Don Douglas, president of UAW Local 594 in Pontiac, Mich., called the closing of the Jefferson Avenue plant ″another broken promise.″

GM plans to idle its Lakewood assembly plant in Atlanta in mid-March. GM and Chrysler also are trimming production rates at other plants in response to slumping sales.

Ford so far has avoided large-scale, indefinite shutdowns by temporary plant closings and eliminating overtime. In 1988, when Ford was posting record profits, the company was building up to 15 percent of its new cars on overtime. ″It’s going to be tough,″ Pete Kelly, president of UAW Local 160 at GM’s Technical Center in Warren, Mich., said of the coming negotiations, which are expected to focus on the issue of job security.

″I think there is as much dissension among salaried employees as among hourly,″ Kelly said at the rally.

Each of the UAW’s contracts with the Big Three has language restricting plant closings, mostly to those whose products aren’t selling. Chrysler said the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon subcompact cars aren’t selling well enough to support the Jefferson Avenue plant, and used that to justify the closing.

The UAW is challenging that claim and has suggested to Chrysler that the Omni and Horizon continue to be built and sold only in areas where the model has proven to be a success.

Many of Thursday’ marchers came from GM or Ford locals, and waited for the end of the only shift at the plant to swell their ranks. But the parade didn’t grow appreciably after the workers inside the factory came outside.

One worker, Al Jones of Detroit, said he wasn’t sure what he would do after the closure of the plant where he’s worked for 22 years.

He and other members of UAW Local 7, like other laid-off autoworkers, are eligible for benefits from a variety of funds which could pay them as much as 95 percent of their normal wage.

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