Chrysler layoffs will begin in late Feb.

Nate Legue

Nearly 1,100 Chrysler employees at the Belvidere assembly plant will get a several-week reprieve before they’re laid off.

A company spokeswoman said Thursday the workers, originally scheduled to lose their jobs starting at the end of January, will now be kept on until late February, according to reports.

The layoffs are part of a nationwide reduction that could eliminate up to 12,000 jobs in a plan by new owner Cerberus Capital Management to return the flagging automaker to profitability.

UAW Local 1268 President Tom Littlejohn told WREX-13 reporters they were expected Feb. 25.

Temps, transfers first

First to go will be temporary workers, who have no job protection rights, and employees who transferred from other Chrysler plants and in the process lost their seniority.

More than 600 temporary and 500 transferred workers could be affected, Littlejohn said. Although the plant is eliminating its third shift, the laid-off workers could come from any shift as low-seniority workers are cut and replaced by their higher-seniority counterparts.

Hoping for buyouts

The details of severance packages have not been finalized, but full-fledged union workers usually get up to 95 percent of their pay when laid off. Special retirement and early buyout packages may also be offered, Tinson said.

About 400 people are eligible, Littlejohn said.

Many of the temporary workers hope enough veterans take buyouts to keep them working.

Jay Gillyard, who moved to Rockford from Detroit two years ago, is one of them.

“We’ve been told that if they do call temporaries back it’ll be based on your work history,” Gillyard said. “I’ve been down here two years and haven’t missed a day.”

Gillyard had worked in the operations department for Northwest Airlines, which he left for Chrysler because Northwest was in bankruptcy. Like many workers threatened with possible unemployment, the 31-year-old said he’s going to look into another career: becoming a police officer.

“Looking back, I shouldn’t have left (Northwest), but no one was sure what was going to happen,” he added.

‘I like it here’

Steven Franklin of Rockford said he hasn’t missed a day either since starting in June 2005. That’s remarkable because Franklin is 61, taking the job at Chrysler after 30 years at Amerock Corp. Amerock’s parent company, Newell Rubbermaid, outsourced his position to Asia.

“The repetitive work (at Chrysler) was hard at first, but I got used to it,” Franklin said of his work in the decking department. “I have my (commercial driver’s license) so I can go drive a truck, but I really hope to get back in the plant. I like it there. I worked at Rockford Products and Amerock, and this is the first job I go to clean and come home clean.”

$419 million retooling

The Belvidere plant added the third shift in June 2006 after a $419 million retooling to equip the factory to make the Dodge Caliber, Jeep Compass and Jeep Patriot.

Chrysler said in November it would cut 8,500 to 10,000 hourly jobs and 2,100 salaried jobs through this year, about 15 percent of its work force. Those cuts come on top of 13,000 Chrysler layoffs announced in February 2006.

Chrysler also will stop making four models, including the slow-selling PT Cruiser convertible and Dodge Magnum wagon.

Assistant Business Editor Alex Gary also contributed to this report.

Staff writer Nate Legue may be reached at 815-987-1346 or