A Small Shutdown

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DETROIT: In an industry notorious for its vicious labor disputes, the Chrysler Corporation has long enjoyed a reputation of having the best labor relations record: just one strike in more than 20 years. That changed Thursday when some 1,800 workers at the Mound Road engine plant walked out over the company's plan to outsource production of driveshafts, which would eliminate about 300 jobs from their plant. Despite a great year for the company and employees as a whole --the highest per-employee profit sharing margin in the industry -- workers knew their position was precarious after their plant was not selected as one six Detroit factories to receive $1.3 billion in corporate investment. Chrysler is planning to close the Mound Road plant after it launches production of a new generation of engines next year at another engine plant. Company spokesmen say all of their jobs are to be moved to the new plant. Still, says TIME's Bill McWhirter, "These strikers may find themselves outflanked. If Chrysler has decided not to keep a plant open because it is no longer economical, the workers will not have the last word on this." The strike will force Chrysler to shut down production at four assembly plants on Friday, affecting another 12,000 employees, since the engines built at the Mound Road plant are used by the others to produce Chrysler's Dodge Ram, Dakota pickup trucks and the popular Jeep Grand Cherokee. Company executives are expected to solve the dispute quickly - both in truth to its reputation and because each day of the strike results in at least $11 million in lost net income.