Chuck Fortinberry, left, owner of Clarkston Chrysler Jeep, talks cars with Robert Simmons, of Waterford. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
On the day Chrysler LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, there was neither panic nor a sense of relief among the many company workers and Metro Detroit communities that have relied on the company for generations.
For decades, both have gone through layoffs, plant closings and corporate takeovers. The only thing that's clear is more epic change is coming down the line.
At various United Auto Workers locals that represent the remaining 25,000 Chrysler rank-and-file workers, there was little to no activity as President Barack Obama in Washington praised Chrysler for "helping build the American middle class" and panned Chrysler for "avoiding hard choices." At Chrysler's headquarters' in Auburn Hills, many white-collar employees had nothing to say.
As workers filed out of the Dodge Truck plant in Warren, several said they were tired of being the scapegoats for Chrysler's woes. The truck plant is one of the facilities being forced to close abruptly because suppliers refused to deliver parts after the automaker filed for bankruptcy. It created momentary chaos in the plant, workers said.
"We were told to go home and then after we packed up and were heading out the door, some of the managers were telling us to come back and stay," said Bob Eames, a tool and die maker. "They couldn't even tell us when we should report back to work. They said maybe 30 days, maybe 60. It's frustrating."
Tom LaSorda, Chrysler vice chairman, said Thursday that due to new concessions the workers just approved, most would receive about 80 percent of their normal pay while they are laid off.
Workers at Sterling Heights Assembly Plant also were sent home Thursday after a key supplier refused to unload a shipment of parts.
Dodge Truck worker Randall Catron said too many people blame the autoworkers for Chrysler's problems. "Everyone dumps on the UAW, but we don't direct the work force, we are the work force," he said. "If you look, we've got some of the best products on the road. We're only going to get better."
At Detroit's UAW Local 7, Nick Lisko was among the few rank-and-file members who showed up during Obama's speech about the company's fate. A day before, many UAW locals were franticly voting on contract changes and a large majority approved the concessions. Lisko works at Jefferson North, which has been idled due to slow sales of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Commander.
"I think Chrysler can survive," said Lisko, 57, who retires in three weeks after 24 years with the company. Lisko added that he wants Chrysler to survive because "I have a house payment, a car payment, credit cards."
Back in Auburn Hills, William Bishard, a Chrysler engineer, was one of the few workers willing to comment.
"Every day our futures become more and more uncertain. It's really sickening," he said.
Eric Geib, a Chrysler engineer for 10 years who just took a buyout, accepted the bankruptcy as a necessary step.
"It needs to be done to help them survive. So be it," he said as he had lunch at Spargo's Coney Island down the street from the headquarters.
At the Sweetheart Bakery/Michelle's Restaurant complex in Warren, several non-Chrysler workers watched live coverage of Chrysler chief Nardelli throwing in the towel.
Attorney Harold McDonald is deeply skeptical Chrysler will emerge from bankruptcy in 30 to 60 days. "If you believe that, you believe in the tooth fairy," he said.
Financial planner Michael Laux added that it was short-sighted to blame the hedge funds for not accepting the Obama deal. "It's years of mismanagement that got us here," he said.