Chrysler adds 1,000 jobs at Michigan pickup plant

The Chrysler side of DaimlerChrysler AG said today that it was adding a third shift of workers at an assembly plant outside Detroit to help meet demand for its Ram pickup truck -- a rare bit of good news for the battered U.S. auto sector. The expansion will result in the addition of 1,000 jobs at the Warren Truck Assembly Plant in July. The company will invest about $35 million to boost annual production capacity at the plant by 60,000 units, or 21 percent, to a total of about 338,000 units. The Ram, which was redesigned last year, is one of Chrysler's best-selling and most profitable vehicles and vital to the company's bottom line. The decision marks something of a reversal of fortune for Chrysler and the United Auto Workers union since it means the No. 3 U.S. automaker, which announced 26,000 layoffs as part of a sweeping restructuring plan last year, will add jobs again. The plant expansion was announced to cheering workers at the Warren facility early on Friday where Nate Gooden, vice president and director of the UAW's DaimlerChrysler department, gave a brief address. "It's a great day," Gooden said. "The UAW is very pleased with the decision to increase production at Warren Truck." Gooden noted that the addition of jobs at the plant would come shortly before Chrysler and other U.S. automakers will enter talks with the UAW, one of the largest and most politically powerful U.S. trade unions, toward a new contract in September next year. He did not elaborate. But senior Chrysler officials have said they expect the automaker to return to a profit this year after a loss of nearly $2 billion in 2001. And some analysts say the UAW may see next year's talks as an opportunity to win back more jobs at Chrysler. Chrysler officials said they expect to staff the Warren Truck plant with employees from other facilities but would also be looking at new hires. The plant, which also assembles the Dakota pickup truck, currently employs about 4,000 people. Tom LaSorda, Chrysler's executive vice president for manufacturing, said the added capacity would also give the company more production flexibility. But he stressed that the move was primarily to meet demand for the Ram, whose sales were up 26 percent in the third quarter compared to a year earlier. "It's adding people, great people, to support a great product that's being received extremely well in the marketplace," LaSorda told reporters. Company officials acknowledged that adding capacity was a rare move in an industry struggling with excess global production of new cars and trucks, however, and fierce competition for a shrinking number of buyers. General Motors Corp. is the only other Detroit automaker that has added a third shift of workers at a U.S. assembly plant this year. Earlier this week, GM said it will go from one to two shifts, or a total of about 2,500 workers, at its Orion Township assembly plant northwest of Detroit, where it plans to build the next-generation Pontiac Grand AM. But that is down significantly from the more than 4,000 workers on two shifts at the plant earlier this year due to leaner production techniques.

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