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4/22/2012 11:47:00 AM
Chrysler changing work schedules at Kokomo transmission plants
WORKING: Chrysler employees leave the plant at 3 p.m. Wednesday. Work schedules for more than 4,000 Chrysler Group LLC employees in Kokomo will likely change within a month or two to four 10-hour days each week.
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WORKING: Chrysler employees leave the plant at 3 p.m. Wednesday. Work schedules for more than 4,000 Chrysler Group LLC employees in Kokomo will likely change within a month or two to four 10-hour days each week.

Daniel Human, Kokomo Tribune Staff Writer

Work schedules for more than 4,000 Chrysler Groupemployees in Kokomo will likely change within a month or two to four 10-hour days each week, according to a company executive.

Shifts’ start and stop times each day will also change after Chrysler moves employees at its three transmission plants to an Alternative Work Schedule, said Brian Harlow, vice president in charge of powertrain manufacturing.

Chrysler has not set plans for a schedule change at the Kokomo Casting Plant, Harlow said.

The Alternative Work Schedule could begin as a trial, then the company would review the changes and decide whether to keep them. But Chrysler intends to implement the new shifts like it already has at two other plants, a company spokeswoman said.

Employees at the Kokomo Transmission Plant, Indiana Transmission Plant I and Indiana Transmission Plant II have been working standard eight-hour days for five days per week. Many of the workers have consistently picked up overtime as the facilities keep up with more orders.

Specifics were not finalized last week, but Chrysler believes the new schedules will increase productivity in concert with demand, while avoiding overworking employees.

“We just now have the capacity on normal schedules to meet that demand,” said Harlow, whose division includes the Kokomo plants.

President of United Auto Workers Local 685 Rich Boruff, who represents workers at the three transmission plants, supported the change, saying it would lead to more jobs.

Boruff declined to comment on the new schedule’s details, saying the union had not presented the information to members.

Some rank-and-file workers argue the new shifts will actually reduce productivity as the changes cause more physical demands, harm their personal lives and cut into their pay.

“In some aspects, people were like, ‘oh, three days off in a row,’” said hourly Chrysler worker Terry Tidler. “Not that many of those people have kids anymore. A daycare or a sitter for an eight-hour shift is one thing, but now for some of us, especially right now at 7:30 at night until 6 a.m., who’s going to take care of those kids?

“People with long drives — New Castle, Greenwood — they’re already driving the better part of an hour one way. Their days just turned to 12-, 13-hour days.”

Labor analyst at the Center for Automotive Research Kristin Dziczek said the schedule shift would be tough on Chrysler’s workers and their families, but the change is a sign of increased demand.

“It sucks, but it’s job security,” she said.

The 3-2-120 model

The Alternative Work Schedule is also known as 3-2-120.

Under the model, there are three crews working two shifts for a total of 120 production hours every week.

There are no scheduled production hours between 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. each day.

Chrysler intends to use the three-hour gaps for maintenance. The company believes it has lost productivity on a regular schedule because machines are shut down for repairs during work shifts.

Dziczek said the big advantage of 3-2-120 for Chrysler is the company will cut costs on overtime.

“It’s the cheaper way to get 120 hours of output,” she said.

When explaining the need for an Alternative Work Schedule, the company has focused on how it has treated its employees.

Harlow said Chrysler has been “working people to death” as many employees work 50 or 60 hours every week.

“By and large, we end up doing some very bad things to people,” he said. “We’re just wearing them out.”

Adjusting to new hours

Harlow acknowledged not all the employees would be in favor of the new schedule.

“They work 10-hour shifts, yes,” he said. “Maybe that’s not so good. But they only work four days.”

Tidler, who works at the Kokomo Transmission Plant, said it was the new schedule he could have that would cause physical difficulty. The skilled tradesman has been working the second shift, which is 3 to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“Myself, I’m not a morning person. I despise getting up before the sun,” he said. “My wife does not like being home alone all night. So the compromise was I work the second shift.”

He anticipates having shifts of 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, then a reversal in hours to 7:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sundays and Mondays. That would mean working in the morning two days a week and at night two days a week, which he worries could hurt his health.

“I can change shifts to get out of it,” he said, “but I can end up with a divorce or I can be absolutely miserable.”

Corporate-wide changes

Chrysler has used Alternative Work Schedules for years at its Dundee Engine Plant in Dundee, Mich., and the Trenton South plant in Trenton, Mich.

Company management has monitored operations at the facilities to see what works and what doesn’t with the schedules, Harlow said.

“We try to keep things as perfect as we can,” he said. “They’re not perfect. We’re working with them to make it more optimized.”

Corporate spokeswoman Jodi Tinson said the Belvidere Assembly plant in Belvidere, Ill., and Jefferson North Assembly plant in Detroit also plan to adopt Alternative Work Schedules.

Dziczek, of the Center for Automotive Research, said the schedules have limitations, but the work shifts could become more common as companies look to increase productivity while keeping down costs.

Many people, such as pilots and nurses, often work similar shifts, she said.

“I know it’s really tough on people,” she said. “It’s tough on families. It’s tough on children. ... But it’s a sign the product made is needed and your job is secure.”

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