May 4, 2009

Kenosha sends a plea to Obama and Marchionne

Kenosha's autoworkers rallied tonight to save their endangered Chrysler manufacturing plant. More than 350 members of UAW Local 72 crowded into the union hall on Washington Road to make the case for keeping their engine plant operating.

But the two most important people -- the two who arguably will make the final decision -- were not in the room: President Barack Obama and Fiat chief executive Sergio Marchionne. Were they even listening?

The message sent loud and clear to Obama was this, as expressed by many, including Glenn Stark, union president: "We feel only anger and betrayal." How can Obama, they ask, put $12 billion of taxpayer dollars into a company that will simultaneously eliminate American jobs while opening a similar plant in Mexico.

The message to Marchionne was equally clear: "We want Chrysler to emerge from bankruptcy as a strong company, and we want Kenosha to be a part of it."

Stark called the Kenosha closure -- due to take place in 2010, according to Chrysler officials, although the real decisions first have to be made in the bankruptcy court from which Fiat is hoping to pick up the automaker -- "a betrayal of Wisconsin taxpayers. Kenosha is the last auto manufacturing plant in the state," he said, referring to GM's just-shuttered Janesville truck factory. "Wisconsin deserves better."

"American dollars for American jobs," shouted someone in the crowd, to enthusiastic applause.

Applause for Kenosha Mayor Keith Bosman from Jim Kreuser,
Cory Mason, Bob Turner, Barbara Lawton (from left)

The room was filled with autoworkers and their supporters. On the stage behind the speakers people held dozens of hand-made signs with messages like "American jobs are worth fighting for," "Save our jobs," and "We gave. Now it's your turn. Don't ship our jobs." Below them were union officials and local politicians. Kenosha Mayor Keith Bosman, former Congressman, now Assembly Rep. Peter Barca, Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton, Racine Assemblymen Bob Turner -- running for mayor tomorrow -- and Cory Mason. On the table in front of them: quality and productivity awards won by the plant in years past.

Bosman said, "I'm not about to give up until they turn out the lights and put a lock on the door." County Executive Jim Kreuser said, "I'm here with a heavy heart. We are down, but we are not out." Gov. Jim Doyle has sent a letter to Obama -- with many co-signers -- stating that Chrysler should amend its bankruptcy plan, and give priority to its U.S. plants over foreign factories.

Kreuser said the governor, who has met with Obama on a number of occasions, must get to the president "so in some way,shape and form we keep the plant open." He noted that each of the plant's 800 jobs supports another 1 1/2 jobs elsewhere in Wisconsin. So the impact on the state is really 2,046 jobs -- some $94 million in wages, and $450,000 a year in property taxes to Kenosha.

The crowd booed whenever a speaker mentioned Kenosha's closing in the same sentence with a reference to the Saltillo, Mexico, plant in which Chrysler plans to build the Phoenix V6 engine that had been promised to Kenosha in 2006, after the union agreed to streamline work rules.

"There is no better stimulus package than jobs, and we want them here," Kreuser said.

"I think we have no choice but to fight," said John Drew, former Local 72 president. Asked by a reporter how much leverage the state has, he said, "It's not how much leverage we have, it's how hard we fight."

"I believe we will prevail," said Barca, adding, "The Chrysler officials who made this decision are -- fortunately for us -- out the door. We will prevail."

Neither Bob Turner nor Cory Mason spoke at the rally, but afterwards both emphasized the impact the Kenosha plant has on Racine. "There are hundreds of Local 72 members in Racine," Turner said. Mason agreed, adding, "The idea of them keeping the Mexican plants open and closing American plants is an outrage. I'm here to support jobs, period. We can't ship jobs out of the country at taxpayer expense." Said Turner, "We'll probably be next."

Postscript: For those keeping track, neither former Vice President Al Gore nor 1st District Congressman Paul Ryan appeared at the half-hour rally, advance billing notwithstanding.


  1. Thank God that Obama campaigned on a platform of keeping American jobs.

  2. There is such a disconnect between these 350 joeys and TARP, AARA, and the Fiat negotiations. This plant is a pimple on the $%^ of Obama's plan to get the Fed's fingers into each major US industry and service sector. One of the next will be the food industry.
    "Don't let a crisis go to waste."

  3. Kreuser is mis-spelled

  4. Anon 7:39: Yes, it was. Thanks.

  5. You people can thank your union for the jobs going to Mexico. When will you fools get it that the union is what is causing businesses here to fail? $70 an hour just to tighten screws on an engine block? Give me a break! You brought this onto yourselves...

  6. Sergio Macaroni is a real piece of work. He basically drove CNH into the ground with his poor leadership and idiotic management team. I expect him to do the same to Chrysler.

  7. I can't even stand to look at Corey Mason's picture any longer. To think I supported the guy - even contributed to his campaign. I have no more respect for him and will never vote for him again. I'm also disgusted he came out and endorsed Bob Turner. Also, what's up with him and this Megan chick? Baaah! I feel we created a monster by getting him elected.

  8. These same idiots who are here protesting the loss of jobs are the same ones voting to send them out of state.


    The unholy trinity of job killers for SE Wisconsin. They should be ashamed to show their faces with the stunts they’ve pulled between killing KRM and this new $300K per employee ‘wrongful termination’ liability law.

    No way in HELL a major business come to WI with that POS in place.

    WILL THE LAST ONE TO LEAVE WISCONSIN… you know the rest.

    And now the one wants to be mayor of Racine. Great. Any jobs left here he can send off for us?

  9. As much as I sympathize with them and of course don't want to see jobs leave Wisconsin, if you were Chrysler/Fiat and you're desperate to keep the company running it makes financial sense to move to a place where production is cheaper. The union voted just a few days ago to ease up, but comparatively, I would guess it didn't make a huge difference. Manufacturing jobs are America's past and I would say they're all in danger at this point.

  10. Through the Obama plan the UAW now controls 55% of Chrysler.

    They are trying to sell that as soon as possible.

    If the UAW or Obama exerted their influence the Kenosha plant could be saved.

    Yet speaker after speaker yesterday excused Obama and put forth their support.

    This truly boggles the mind.

  11. Every time a hardship looms we seem to send a plea to some government official.
    Every time a government official gets involved it seems the hardship is simply moved onto someone else's shoulders, and/or made worse.
    Why in the world would Fiat want to keep Kenosha open when stockholders & pension funds can get a better return if the work is done in a less expensive plant??
    It is going to be a real awakening when the UAW owns 55% of GM and has to make plant location decisions.
    But of course they will just petition the Messiah to impose higher tariffs on 'imports'.

  12. Anon 7:54 pm, your ignorance is showing. Been getting your info from the Fox News folks? I suggest you get informed. Go here to read actual facts and figures:

    Unless you find it too difficult to read and need to rely on pictures or talking heads.

  13. Anon 1:49pm - Maybe you should read your own article:

    "The calculations show, accurately enough, that for every hour a unionized worker puts in, one of the Big Three really does spend about $73 on compensation."

    I wouldn't trust the NY Times for my news, but this article sure seems to support your so-called Fox News claim!

  14. DepressedInRacine5/05/2009 11:19 PM

    The only people you have to blame for this is the people that elected Obama. He doesn't give a rip about the people in this country. This move proves it! The faster this country goes socialist the happier he'll be.

  15. Has anybody really given any thought to this? Think about it, if the union owns 55% of the business that it's supposed to represent the workers of, how can it function as a truly representative union of the workers. Can you imagine the union negotiating with itself? Does the term "conflict of interest" spring to mind at all?
    And when did it become acceptable for our government (not mention Canada's) to become "owners" in any private sector company?

  16. Before anyone takes another swipe at the workers in the Kenosha engine plant (both hourly & salaried), let's ask if they really do an effective job at building engines. Answer: Pretty darned good, thank you very much. The employees have systems in place to keep assembly running, putting out engines as reliable as the designs permit. (They are not allowed to change any design characteristics) They identify issues all along the line, and work them out, at the lowest level possible.

    They competed, successfully, with all the other engine plants in the company (and perhaps other auto companies - at one time Chrysler bought engines from VW). And they got the work - the engine assignments.

    To do this they had to build a fully functional mode of behavior focused on building engines, involving almost everyone in the plant. It allows the workers in the plant to maintain and improve their performance. This is not easy to develop, especially by issuing orders from HQ or the Plant Manager's office. If anyone inside Chrysler thinks they can develop that same capability at another plant with a memo, they will be in for a shock of stark financial proportions.

    What those folks on the line do is NOT simply follow instructions. They are NOT interchangeable with other low paid people. Any country that does not respect its plumbers or its philosophers will have neither plumbing or theories that hold water. It takes everyone to make our country work.

  17. Boys and girls you are wasting your time. When Marchionne makes a decision he does not reverse positions. He has no concerns for people - just the business and his ego.