How Auto Workers In Michigan View The Situation

Executives from the Big Three automakers will return to Capitol Hill next week to explain to lawmakers why Congress should continue lending the companies money. If the automakers can't prove their business plans are solid, they may have to declare bankruptcy.

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As Micheline mentioned, there are likely to be a lot more job cuts in the auto industry. In Detroit, workers are anxious. NPR's Celeste Headlee reports.

CELESTE HEADLEE: If auto executives can't convince Congress they have viable business plans in place, the Treasury Department could allow the Big Three to declare bankruptcy. But Ford worker Robin Gara(ph) says, that would be disastrous.

Mr. ROBIN GARA (Employee, Ford Motor Company): I think we'd be in a recession like the '30s.

HEADLEE: Gara puts together door panels at the Selene assembly plant. It's a bitterly cold day, and the workers here are hunched into their coats, trotting to their cars after a long shift. Carpenter Jim Nearman(ph) shakes his head when I ask him if he thinks the auto industry will bounce back.

Mr. JIM NEARMAN (Carpenter): If they can stop the fear in the people from holding back from buying, if they could just get over that, maybe this year, and then we could start buying again.

HEADLEE: Nearman's shoulders slump when he crumples into his truck seat. It's been busy here because the automaker has been closing other facilities and streamlining their operations. This plant is responsible for more production now. And though the company's been shifting workers here as they close other plants, there's still too much to do, Nearman says.

Mr. NEARMAN: Ah, man, yeah, lately it's like, (Laughing) I'm tired man. Twelve hours a day for a while and its good money right now, I just thought I'd better work it before, you know, if we do get laid off right, now, OK, you know.

HEADLEE: And that's a real concern. Robin Gara will be laid-off soon. He's a temp worker who'll lose his job when 1,800 Ford employees return to the plant.

Mr. GARA: I'll be on the callback list and hopefully - I have two years seniority - hopefully, I'll be called back within two years. I expect to.

HEADLEE: And Gara says, he's sure the auto executives will be able to plead their case in Congress next week and get their loans extended.

Mr. GARA: They really don't have choice.

HEADLEE: But although the workers here acknowledge the trouble their industry is going through, most of them seem surprisingly hopeful about the future.

Ms. KIM ATCHISON: Well, I think Obama will help us out, and I think that he'll get everything back on track. I really have faith in him. I think he'll get it turned back around.

HEADLEE: Kim Atchison(ph) supervises the assembly of the popular F-150 truck. Gara also says he thinks Obama will step in and keep the auto industry alive. He says he hopes the Republicans don't stand in the way.

Mr. GARA: We have a little saying in the plant about the Republicans - blue-collar worker that votes for Republicans is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders. That's basically what it is. They're for the rich man. They're not for the working man, they never have been.

HEADLEE: Gara thinks the auto industry is going to get back on its feet though, once the recession is over. Atchison says she's a little worried about GM and Chrysler, but she thinks Ford has made the changes it needs to make and has a strong plan to weather the economic storm.

Ms. ATCHISON: I really think Ford's going to make it. If any of them make it, I think Ford will make it.

HEADLEE: Jim Nearman echoes that sentiment.

Mr. NEARMAN: Mostly, it's the Ford suppliers that we're worried about because if GM goes under here, we got to hold on to our suppliers to keep us going.

HEADLEE: Nearman is hoping Congress votes to extend the loans because he doesn't think Ford can survive if GM goes down. But he says he can't bear to read the paper or watch the news.

Mr. NEARMAN: It's depressing, I'll tell you. The news is a lot of bad news. Yeah, I don't watch it too much. No. Yeah, it's too discouraging lately here.

HEADLEE: Celeste Headlee, NPR News, Detroit.

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