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September 30, 2013 5:05 pm
Mick Antovski watches as six of his workers carefully strap the chassis and engine of a Jeep Grand Cherokee to its body, then bolt the two firmly together, travelling all the while on a moving production line. The process, Mr Antovski notes, has taken precisely 47 seconds, as the production protocols at Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant (Jnap) demand.
But even a relatively senior figure such as Mr Antovski – shift leader for chassis insertion at the plant – admits to having little idea how the plant’s atmosphere has changed since Chrysler’s 2009 bankruptcy and re-emergence under the control of Italy’s Fiat. Like about half of the plant’s 4,500 workers, he has arrived since the plant’s darkest days and is new to car manufacturing.
Mr Antovski has no doubt of his team’s enthusiasm for working at the plant, the last surviving volume car assembly plant entirely inside Detroit. “They love the plant.
“They love working together. They see a positive company – and obviously they cannot make enough of these cars for the customer.”
Yolanda Perkins, 50, another post-bankruptcy recruit, echoes Mr Antovski’s account, even though she says her work – in the trim shop, fitting interiors – was hard at first. Her shift has gone from producing 200 vehicles a day when she joined to 600 vehicles a day.
“The morale is really good,” she says. “Nobody is complaining.”
Jason Ryska, the Jnap plant manager, says workers generally feel intense pride in the plant, one of the few large-scale economic bright spots in Detroit, which, like Chrysler before it, is in the course of declaring bankruptcy.
Phyllis Adams, a paintshop employee who has worked at Jnap for 21 years, recalls how poor morale was in 2009. “Everybody was scared,” she says. “We were afraid of losing our jobs.”
That experience has made Ms Adams, 42, appreciate the often pressurised atmosphere that now surrounds the plant as it seeks to turn out 341,000 vehicles a year.
“That’s good pressure,” she says. “The more product sells, the more happy we are. That’s job security.”
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