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Chrysler cutting third shift at plant

CHRYSLER has given notice that it will eliminate the third shift at its minivan assembly plant in Canada, affecting 1,200 workers.

The company, which has requested billions of dollars of financial assistance from American and Canadian governments, announced Wednesday from Auburn Hills, Michigan, that about one-quarter of the Windsor, Ontario assembly plant's work force will be placed on indefinite layoff.

Chrysler's announcement said the third shift would end "no sooner than June 24" - leaving some question as to when the affected employees will be actually out of work and leaving some hope that work could be salvaged if the battered North American auto market improves.

But Ken Lewenza, national president of the Canadian Auto Workers union and a former employee at the minivan plant, said the company has decided there's no sign that demand will pick up this spring or summer, normally a good time for sales.

"For them to take the third shift off, believe me, they've analyzed this up and down, sideways and backwards and, today, the sales don't substantiate the third shift," Lewenza said.

"But from my perspective, the Chrysler minivan continues to be an incredibly successful vehicle. ... But today nobody's buying. We've just got to hope."

The Windsor plant currently has 4,450 hourly workers making Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivans and is Chrysler's only supplier of minivans, since it shut down production of the vehicles at two US plants.

Mary Gauthier, a Chrysler spokeswoman in Windsor, said the jobs are a casualty of the huge drop in vehicle sales that has been occurring in the United States, where industry sales volume in February dropped 41 percent from a year ago.

"We export over 85 percent of our production over to the US side, so when we see the effect of this global financial crisis - and what it has on our largest export market - that's what has happened here. And that's the effect we see with this shift reduction," he said.

The Chrysler cuts announced late Wednesday are the second blow in as many days to southern Ontario's industrial economy. On Tuesday, US Steel Canada announced a shutdown of the former Stelco steelmaking operations in Hamilton and Nanticoke, affecting 1,500 jobs. That reflects slumping demand from industries including the auto sector.

Also Tuesday, Vale Inco said it will cut more than 400 jobs at its Canadian operations producing nickel, a major steel alloy.

The cuts also continue a massive restructuring in Ontario's battered manufacturing industries. Layoffs in the auto, forestry, mining and industrial sectors have cost tens of thousands of jobs, whacked by slumping demand from the United States and the global credit crunch.

Chrysler Canada has another assembly plant in Brampton, outside Toronto, making the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger sedans and Dodge Challenger muscle car.


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