‘I’m 57. How employable am I going to be?’

“Nearly 1,400 autoworkers are about to lose their jobs in Belvidere, Ill.”

Eleven years after the government bailout the auto industry is again in trouble. The story below focuses on a Fiat-Chrysler plant in Belvidere, Ill where the entire third shift is being laid off leaving almost 1,500 employees with a paycheck. Most of the affected personnel are front line employee, which is understandable in our economy, My question is after the Trump administration and Republican last year in Dec 2017 voted for the largest tax break in our history which gave many companies huge tax breaks, where did that money go which went to Fiat-Chrysler also??? Fiat-Chrysler is not the only auto industry company in trouble; so while reading about the Belvidere plant remember other plants are in trouble also.

When the final whistle blows this weekend for workers on the third shift at the Belvidere Assembly Plant near Rockford, the nearly 1,400 members of “C Crew” will punch out for the last time, downsized out of a job because of slowing demand for the plant’s only product — the Jeep Cherokee.

It is a straightforward business decision for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which is scaling back to a traditional two-shift schedule at the plant amid softening sales and a glut of competitors.

But for residents of Belvidere, a small river city situated amid sprawling cornfields about 75 miles northwest of Chicago, Monday will be anything but business as usual.

“I’m scared,” said Mike Dovey, 57, of Poplar Grove, whose two years at the plant end Saturday. “There’s a lot of uncertainty. You don’t have a job, you’ve still got to pay all your bills.”

Dovey was among the 1,371 least-tenured union workers at the plant who received notice from Fiat Chrysler in February that the third crew — and their jobs — would be eliminated in May. In addition, hundreds of employees at nearby suppliers like Syncreon and Android have been permanently laid off as well, according to state filings.

The anxiety among residents here is palpable, even as the plant, which employed 5,464 at the start of 2019, will likely remain the region’s largest employer. Fiat Chrysler declined to say what the actual Belvidere employee count will be after the layoffs, but it’s not lost on people here that the automaker is investing billions in new production capacity elsewhere.

Hundreds of displaced Chrysler workers attended a recent UAW Local 1268 severance meeting at the Belvidere community center, filing through a gray rain to face a grim choice: They have until May 13 to decide if they want temporary positions at the Belvidere plant, and whether to sign up for full-time openings down the road at either their home plant or Chrysler facilities in other markets such as Detroit and Toledo, Ohio.

The laid-off autoworkers are also eligible to receive $13,000 worth of federally funded job training if they want to change careers.

Dovey, who attended the meeting, said he was considering going back to school to become either a truck driver or a correctional officer, but had no interest in relocating for Chrysler. He already moved, from Boston, 17 years ago.

“I own a home. Now I’ve got to sell my house, move all my stuff,” he said, before adding, “Why do I want to move there?”

Brian Pasch, 33, of Rockford, who also attended the UAW information session, worked in the chassis department at Belvidere for two years, putting seats in the cars. He previously worked for a supplier to the plant.

While the layoff put plans to buy a house for his wife and stepson on hold, Pasch said he would be willing to take temporary work at the Belvidere plant on the two shifts that will remain, or relocate to Chrysler plants in Toledo or Detroit if he could land full-time work.

He’s not being fussy.

“This is all I know, so whatever they offer me, I’ll take,” Pasch said.

An auto town

A stroll on State Street in Belvidere, a city of 25,000 that straddles the Kishwaukee River, reveals a quaint downtown with eclectic ma-and-pa retailers, some vacant storefronts and an assortment of colorful murals adorning the sides of its brick buildings. One of them features Jeanne Gang, a native daughter whose architecture firm is reshaping Chicago’s skyline.

For more than half a century, Belvidere has been an auto town, its fortunes inextricably tied to the Chrysler auto plant, which brought hope, jobs and a succession of new car models — some more popular than others.

The first car that rolled off the line on July 7, 1965, was a snazzy, white, four-door Plymouth Fury II sedan, which is proudly displayed at the Boone County Museum of History in downtown Belvidere. The original sticker remains affixed to the window: The car had a base price of $2,684. Extras, like an AM radio ($57.35), an electric clock ($15.30) and the always dubious undercoating ($15.40), brought the total to $3,206.90.

Over the years, the plant was retooled several times, and made everything from the compact Dodge Omni to the land-yacht Chrysler New Yorker. All the while, it was a survivor. During Chrysler’s painful bankruptcy in 2009, the plant was down to 200 employees before Fiat and a government bailout rescued it and the company.

By 2012, the plant had new life. Fiat Chrysler’s dynamic chairman, Sergio Marchionne, visited the plant, fresh off a $700 million investment to gear up for production of the Dodge Dart. To an exuberant crowd standing amid the retooled assembly lines, he announced that the plant would add a third shift and 1,800 workers.

As recently as 2017, the plant’s future seemed secure when it became the exclusive home for the Jeep Cherokee, the sweet spot in an auto industry where SUVs have supplanted cars in many family garages. Last year, when GM announced it would close plants because of flagging sedan sales, Belvidere was humming along, producing nearly 270,000 Jeep Cherokees — up 27 percent from 2017.

Part II continues on our next blog article:

The Money Connection Teams “Following The Money”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *