American Axle strike; Challenge Manufacturing to lay-off hundreds

10:40 PM, Mar 9, 2008   |    comments
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Many West Michigan manufacturing workers were fearing the American Axle strike may take their jobs; it appears their fears have come true. Due to American Axle's strike, Challenge Manufacturing, based in Walker, is stopping production in at least one of its plants because American Axle does not need their product. Three hundred to four hundred workers at Challenge Manufacturing's Plant #1 do not need to report to work on Monday. "Everybody was told we were laid off, until further notice," says an employee choosing to remain anonymous. According to the employee, everyone was pulled into a meeting Friday, then told most didn't need to come back. "From operators, team leaders, hi-lo drivers, everybody is affected by it," says the employee. "They said they didn't know what would happen, we'd have to go to get unemployment." Employees were told this layoff should be temporary. Still, some believe Challenge management should have been more forthcoming. The employee says, "First shifters don't even know yet. They're going to show up to work, work four hours, and then get told to go home." Auto analysts say Challenge Manufacturing is not to blame. "Challenge is certainly not the bad guy," says analyst Jim Gillette. "It's a matter of you don't get the orders from your customer you have no choice in this matter. It's not a situation where you can keep stockpiling parts." In this case, it's fallout from American Axle's strike. "What we ship is about 90% American Axle parts," says the anonymous employee. WZZM 13 News spent hours Saturday trying to speak with Challenge management. Some didn't know about the layoffs, others refused to talk about them; but a letter given to employees Friday explains the American Axle situation, and says "Challenge regrets the fact that we have to temporarily lay off numerous employees effective immediately." So far only workers at Plant #1 are affected, according to a message on the employee attendance line. The message states, "Unless you have been specifically notified by Challenge management, there will be no work for Plant #1 on Monday, March 10, 2008." Meanwhile, analyst Jim Gillette says it's important to consider the impact of a strike. In the case of American Axle, workers are holding out, hoping their demands, including wages, are met. "But when you look at the local manufacturing, we've got a lot of people that make $12, maybe at the most $15 an hour," says Gillette. "Now they are out of work because of one plant for one company that's on strike." Challenge Manufacturing employees are supposed to call the Employee Attendance Line every night to see if they're to report to work the next day. That number is (616) 735-6540. The U.A.W. workers at American Axle went on strike nearly two weeks ago. The Detroit based company provides axles for pickups and SUV's. Its largest customer is General Motors, and the walkout has hit the automaker's production plants hard. GM announced this week it will cut or stop production at several more plants, bringing the total to 20. In Michigan, that includes plants in Flint, Bay City, Romulus, and the Wyoming Metal Stamping plant. GM says 149 workers at that plant will be laid off beginning Monday. The strike affects about half of the volume at the Wyoming plant. The automaker says the layoffs are expected to last at least one week.

Nick Monacelli

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