STEVE INSKEEP, host:
General Motors is trading publicly again, and Chrysler is planning its own public stock offering next year. But we hear less about the auto workers who lost their jobs so that those car companies could stay a float. About 100,000 of them took buyouts or were laid off.
Kate Davidson has the story of a former Chrysler worker who's wondering whether he made the right choice. Her report comes to us from the Midwest public media collaborative, Changing Gears.
KATE DAVIDSON: Early last year, Joseph Arducan was one of many auto workers who didn't know which way to turn. He was a toolmaker, a skilled tradesman who had worked at Chrysler for 17 years. But he had a problem.
Mr. JOSEPH ARDUCAN (Former Chrysler employee): I might go to work tomorrow and there might not be a Chrysler.
DAVIDSON The company had offered buyout after buyout. The writing was on the wall and it spelled bankruptcy. So when a government team came to his plant and offered to pay for college, Joseph Arducan made up his mind. On April 3, 2009, he left what he says was a six figure job.
Mr. ARDUCAN: And it's hard to walk away from that. I mean somebody in their right mind in this economic downturn would say, you're working for the Big Three, you have no degree, you're making that much money with all that benefits, how can you be that dumb to walk away?
DAVIDSON: Now at 43, Joseph Arducan is a senior at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Lori Arducan is the breadwinner, and she worries.
Ms. LORI ARDUCAN: Had I known then what I know now, I don't know if we would have made the same decision. You know, Chrysler is back up and running. His friends are working 12 hours, six days a week. And, it's hard, financially it's hard.
Mr. MARK JENNINGS (Chrysler employee): He's like a brother to me. When he took the buyout it crushed me.
DAVIDSON: That's Mark Jennings. He's one of those friends back working overtime at Chrysler's stamping plant in Warren, Michigan. That's where he worked alongside Joseph Arducan for about 15 years.
Mr. JENNINGS: Shoo-wee(ph), I could not even imagine restarting a career at that age.
DAVIDSON: Jennings says he never even considered the buyout.
Mr. JENNINGS: Because once you sign, you're basically finished. And you can't even get a job back in Chrysler Corporation. And I wasn't willing to do that. I just figured, you know, I'll go down with the ship if that's where it's going be.
DAVIDSON: But the ship's still afloat. And in fact, we spoke late in the evening, as Jennings was getting ready for the graveyard shift. In the auto world, round the clock shifts are a very good thing. It means there's work. Mark Jennings says that for a while his plant ran only one shift. Jennings describes his friend Joseph Arducan as stubborn - and smart.
Mr. JENNINGS: The last day that he was in the plant to pick up his toolbox, and he was saying bye to people. You know, they were all like, Joe; you're out of your mind. But I'll tell you what, every single one of them said, well, if one person could do it, you'd be the one.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIDSON: Still, it's hard.
(Soundbite of Jenna giggling)
DAVIDSON: At the Arducan's house, five-year-old Jenna is lying on her belly, playing with an iPhone.
Ms. JENNA ARDUCAN: You can draw pictures and it makes a sound.
DAVIDSON: Her father didn't have a computer growing up. He's a hunt and peck typist.
(Soundbite of Jenna giggling)
DAVIDSON: He didn't even know how to use Microsoft Word when he left Chrysler. Joseph Arducan doesn't regret going back to school - he wanted it. But he admits he's often overwhelmed by assignments.
Mr. ARDUCAN: To make a family tree in Word, oh my god, I'm lucky if I can get it to tab backwards and, you know, insert this and that and I get stuck all the time, why doesn't this margin move? And then I'll sit in the basement for hours on days. I'll finally ask her, Lori, how do I do this? Because I don't want to ask. I don't want her to be at college.
Ms. ARDUCAN: We see him more now. He's physically home more now. But I think we spend less time with him now. That's one of the things that's hard.
DAVIDSON: Joseph Arducan isn't sure what's next. He appears to have swapped uncertainty for uncertainty. But everyone is looking forward to his graduation.
Mr. ARDUCAN: I will be so proud that day. I will cry the day I get that degree. And I went there and I made that decision knowing that, no matter how hard it gets, that degree is going to carry its own weight.
DAVIDSON: But Michigan's unemployment rate is the second highest in the country. So when Joseph Arducan graduates next year, job competition will likely be fierce. It may be only then that these two friends will see which made really the better choice.
For NPR News, I'm Kate Davidson.
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