Chrysler worker: 'Roller coaster isn't over for us'

As employees leave the Warren, Mich., stamping plant, they give their reaction to the bankruptcy, look to the future.

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By Allan Chernoff, CNN Senior Correspondent

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WARREN, Mich. (CNNMoney.com) -- The deal that is supposed to save jobs has put Chrysler hourly workers out of a job for at least the next month.

"I was stamping out some beautiful hoods for the Dodge Ram, our supervisor came up, shut the lines and told us they received an e-mail from Auburn Hills headquarters that we were to stop all operations as of right now, immediately, exit the building for at least 30 days until further notice," said Chrysler employee Harold Keith.

Word had come straight from the top. In a "Dear Chrysler Employees" e-mail time stamped 4/30/2009 12:49 p.m., outgoing CEO Bob Nardelli shared news of the global partnership with Fiat, the "structured bankruptcy" filing, and the fact that most manufacturing operations will be temporarily idled.

"There is no question that this process involves deep sacrifices from many Chrysler stakeholders, including the UAW," Nardelli wrote in the internal memo.

The temporary furlough came only one day after United Auto Workers members had voted to give up bonuses, some break time and accept 55% ownership of Chrysler in lieu of billions in cash to support their health benefits, all to help the company avoid bankruptcy.

"It does make me angry," said Keith, who earns $27.65 per hour at the metal stamping plant in Warren, Mich. He blames hedge funds that rejected the government's request to take a loss on their investments in Chrysler debt. "They forced us into bankruptcy."

Bankruptcy law will allow Chrysler to squeeze out expenses. Among those who may bear much of the pain are the automaker's suppliers.

Across Mound Road from the Warren plant is DPR Manufacturing and Services, a small steel fabricator. Anticipating trouble, co-owner Emmet DeGuevera laid off three of his 11 workers at the end of last year and dramatically reduced the company's dependence on the automakers. Now that industry only accounts for 20% of DPR's business.

"A lot of the suppliers are going to have a tough time struggling," said DeGuevera. "If the suppliers can't ship anything, they can't send an invoice."

Chrysler's network of more than 3,000 dealerships is now likely to reduced, something that state franchise laws prevent outside of bankruptcy court.

"There's always pain in bankruptcy. No one walks away happy," said bankruptcy attorney Douglas Bernstein of Michigan-based law firm Plunkett Cooney. "But you have to understand, if nothing was done, the company wasn't going to survive."

That recognition has many of Chrysler's workers willing to accept their furlough and Chrysler's bankruptcy.

"We're used to the roller coaster," said Chrysler skilled tradesman Alex Wasell, who was one of the last hourly workers to leave the Warren factory after finishing shutting down manufacturing equipment. "The roller coaster isn't over for us yet. It's not over yet for the U.S. economy." To top of page

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