U.S. Auto Industry Still Reeling
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Chadwick.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand. We've been talking a lot about the economy and what the candidates' plans are for fixing it. Well, let's go now to a place where people are really dealing with the effects of this bad economy, Detroit. Celeste Headlee is there now.
And Celeste, give us a sense now. You're talking to people there in Detroit and talking to auto workers, many of whom have heard that they might be laid off pretty soon. What are they telling you?
CELESTE HEADLEE: I think they are resigned at this point. You know, when this auto decline began, and this was years ago, I think people were very passionate. They were fighting every single lost job. But at this point, everyone clearly believes that the auto makers are in as much trouble as they have said that they are. And, although it's a very sad time for people here, I think people are feeling a little bit resigned. They are depressed. The mood is definitely down. But I - you're not getting the sense of outrage that you did when these jobs first began to disappear.
BRAND: And there was some news out that GM is going to speed up the closing of several plants, or two plants, one in Michigan and one in Wisconsin. What's the reaction to that, that these plants will actually close right before Christmas?
HEADLEE: That's right. Two days before Christmas on December 23rd, one of them. The one in Janesville, Wisconsin is GM's oldest plant. It opened in 1919. And you have to remember that, for people who work at these plants, very often, the closing of the plant is like closing the college in a college town. There are 1,200 people that are going to be losing their jobs in Wisconsin, but the city leaders there say that it's going to affect four to 6,000 other jobs.
And, in fact, the UAW president there said it's worse than a funeral. It's like 1,400 funerals. And he says the businesses there are going to put headstones in front of their stores. So this is a very sad time when a plant closes that's been the cornerstone of your community for, you know, most of the century.
BRAND: And there's some talk or some rumors, some speculation that GM and Chrysler are still in merger talks, even though, officially, they say the talks are off the table.
HEADLEE: That's right. The news leaked on Friday that they were speaking, that GM had been talking to Cerberus. Cerberus owns Chrysler. And remember, these two aren't necessarily strange bed fellows. They do share ownership of GMAC Financial Services. We don't really know anything about these merger talks at all. It could be something simple like deciding to merge a brand. But supposedly, according to people in the know, we're talking about a real acquisition.
You know, it was only 20 years ago that Chrysler purchased AMC, American Motor Company, infamous for the Gremlin and the Pacer. But they also purchased the Jeep brand. And there are actually a lot of people saying that Jeep is exactly what GM wants to acquire. But really, what's at stake here is, first of all, they're going to be eliminating some competition. And because the market is flooded right now with models that are not selling, although it seems strange for one struggling auto maker to purchase another struggling auto maker, getting rid of one of their major competitors could help them.
BRAND: But I understand that the unions are very upset over this. One union leader called it an absolute catastrophe. What are workers telling you about that possible merger?
HEADLEE: Well, they're scared. They're really scared. We're talking about eliminating an entire auto maker and not just any auto maker. This one has been around also for most of the last century and is a major employer and provides a lot of healthcare and retirement for thousands of people across the country. So who knows what would happen were these two to merge, what happens to their pensions? What would happen to their healthcare? And what would happen to those thousands of people that are working right now for Chrysler around the world.
BRAND: And so what is the effect on the presidential race? We know that the polls are in Barack Obama's favor in Michigan and in Wisconsin. What are people telling you about the choice there?
HEADLEE: I just talked to someone this morning that works for General Motors, and he said, who do you think I'm going to vote for? McCain came to Michigan and said, the auto industry is dead. Get over it. That's not what McCain said. But that was his sense of it, and he is supporting Obama because he feels like his sense is that Obama is going to help revive the auto industry rather than telling manufacturing people here to move on and find a new trade.
The idea of moving on and finding a new industry that will help revitalize the manufacturing states like Wisconsin and Michigan and Ohio and Indiana, that's not very popular here. And I can't imagine that these struggles of the auto industry, especially at this particular time so close to the election, are going to help John McCain.
BRAND: Celeste Headlee in Detroit. Thanks, Celeste.
HEADLEE: Thank you.
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