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Chrysler Workers Critical Of Obama Decision

Workers were critical of President Obama's rejection of Chrysler's turnaround plan and looked to a proposed partnership with Italy's Fiat as their company's last chance.

WARREN, Mich. (AP) -- Chrysler workers were critical Monday of President Barack Obama's rejection of automaker turnaround plans and looked to a proposed Chrysler partnership with Italy's Fiat SpA as their company's last chance to survive the industry downturn.

"Right now it looks like our only hope," 37-year-old lineman Douglas Kozak said after arriving at the Warren Truck Assembly plant. "You've got to expect the worst and hope for the best."

The White House says Auburn Hills-based Chrysler LLC and Detroit-based General Motors Corp. have not submitted acceptable restructuring plans. GM chairman Rick Wagoner was forced out Sunday, and local union leaders at two GM plants saw him as "the fall guy" -- a fate top bankers avoided when getting federal aid.

On Monday, Obama said neither GM nor Chrysler has proposed enough changes to justify further large federal bailouts, and demanded more concessions from creditors, unions and others.

But even as he pronounced their turnaround plans unsatisfactory, the president said the administration will offer General Motors "adequate working capital" over the next 60 days to produce a reorganization plan acceptable to the administration.

He said Chrysler's situation is more perilous, and the government will give the company 30 days to overcome hurdles to a combination with Fiat, the Italian automaker. If they are successful "we will consider lending up to $6 billion to help their plan succeed," he said.

Some workers were critical of what they see as a double standard in how Washington has approaching bailing out the auto industry versus bailing out banks -- a frequent complaint of industry advocates.

Machine repairman Don Thompson, 56, of Macomb County's Chesterfield Township said the automakers are being punished because of anger over the banking bailout.

"They're using us for the mistakes they've made in Washington," the 36-year Chrysler veteran said as he arrived Monday morning at Chrysler's Warren Stamping plant.

Erin Wynn, a material handler at the same facility, said the difference between how the two industries are treated by Obama is "absolutely ridiculous."

"I think there has got to be some kind of equality," she said.

A union official representing hourly workers at a GM transmission plant in Warren said he was shocked when he heard Wagoner had been forced out, but not entirely surprised.

"The president is making someone be (responsible) for what's going on," said Frank Rowser, financial secretary for UAW Local 909. "They're using him as a fall guy."

In Lordstown, Ohio, where GM produces the Cobalt and Pontiac G5 fuel-efficient cars, United Auto Workers Local 1112 President Jim Graham said Wagoner had been held to a different standard by the administration than the CEOs of troubled banks.

"As far as Wagoner losing his job, it would have made it a lot more palatable had some of the CEOs of the major banks that put us into this position lost their jobs but, unfortunately, that didn't happen. For some reason, they are held to a different level than the CEOs of the major car companies, and that's what's so wrong about it," he said.

"We knew someone was going to have to take the proverbial 'bullet,' and it would have made it a lot easier to accept that had the CEOs of the banks also been required to give up their jobs."

Chrysler's proposed deal with Fiat would give the Italian company a 35 percent stake in the U.S. automaker and entree into the American market. In return, Chrysler would get badly needed small-car technology.

Mike Shepherd, 45, a die maker at Warren Stamping, was skeptical of the Fiat deal, noting that Chrysler's partners in past alliances -- such as 1998's merger with Stuttgart, Germany-based Daimler-Benz, which dissolved in 2007 -- aren't helping the company now.

"I think Fiat's taking advantage of it to get the market share," the 17-year Chrysler veteran said.

Others were more hopeful.

Michael Underhill, 51, a worker at the Chrysler engine plant in Kenosha, Wis., said Fiat's proposal is the company's best offer.

"Overall, I'm just holding my breath and hoping that Fiat does something," Underhill said. "My job depends on it. I only have 22 years, I can't bail out of here yet."

Underhill, who worked as an electrician before joining the plant, said he's far from retirement but doesn't want to lose the time he's put in.

"I haven't had enough time to get out of here and too much time to quit," Underhill said. "We're all just hanging in there and hoping."

Associated Press writers Jeff Karoub in Detroit, Colin Fly in Milwaukee and Thomas J. Sheeran in Cleveland contributed to this report.

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