The Cost of Keeping a Job

Three Rivers, Mich. – For the last three decades the most prized possession in this small town in southwestern Michigan was a job at the American Axle plant. It was backbreaking work, assembling axles mostly for General Motors four-wheel-drive vehicles, but the pay was excellent. With overtime, workers could rake in six figures a year.

But during the last few years, Americans stopped buying SUVs and the axles that the plant here manufactured. When the United Auto Workers contract was up earlier this year, American Axle needed to make big cuts. There were concerns that the factory, the largest employer in Three Rivers, might pull up stakes and relocate to Mexico.

After a three-month strike, the UAW reached a deal that would give hundreds of workers buyouts. Fewer than half of the plant’s workers remained on the job and they were forced to take up to a 50 percent pay cut.

Although Three Rivers narrowly averted an economic catastrophe that have hit other Michigan towns like Flint, the hundreds of workers at American Axle now have to deal with their own personal financial catastrophe.

“Everybody I know has had a problem,” said Tim Rowley, a senior axle technician at the plant.

Rowley’s wage fell about 40 percent, from $28.50 an hour to $17.50 an hour. He is also receiving a “buy-down,” a lump sum each year that is supposed to help with the transition to less income. He will get about $30,000 each year for the next three years.

The buy down was not enough for the divorced father of three to keep his house. After missing a couple payments during the strike, he forced to sell his house at a loss.

Now Rowley, 40, and his girlfriend, Tammie Wrenn, 37, are getting used to life with less income than they had when they were in their 20s. They’re clipping coupons and skipping vacations. They’ve even decided not to have a child for the time being.

“The extreme changes that have gone on in our lives over the last seven months have pretty much pooh-poohed that idea,” Rowley said.

For Rowley, the one bright spot for on the horizon is the election. He’s a staunch Democrat and is hoping a president Obama would live up to his rhetoric on the campaign trail bashing the North American Free Trade Agreement. Rowley blames NAFTA for the loss of manufacturing jobs.

“If he does half of what he says, what he wants to do, he’ll be the best president ever. If he does half!” Rowley, said.

Wrenn is a staunch Republican and although the polls show the economic downturn has pushed more voters into Obama’s camp, she doesn’t buy Obama’s message of change. She supports John McCain.

“Obama’s not going to get into office and immediately things are going to change and it’s all going to be this rosy fix to everything,” she said.

By Travis Fox  |  October 29, 2008; 3:46 AM ET  | Category:  In-Depth
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I am originally from lansing michigan and hard times is an understatement there. I was offended at first when I went back home recently because I was repeatedly asked "Are you working?" With my wife being the bread winner I was a little over sensitive to the question thinking maybe it was maybe a low blow. It wasn't until I listened to people stories that I realized that it was a legitamate question being asked in Lansing.

I left the area around Sep. 2001 when business was booming in michigan. I actually took some flack for joining the military when, "you could have a job at general motors, the most stable company in the United States"

There was almost an arrogance in the manufacturing world there. I think that's why there seems to be a black cloud, a strong feeling of hopelessness, or even shock. For too long Michigan was a one trick pony depending on the car industry not unlike western Pennsylvania depended on steel mills.

The sadest part is the men and women who were so confident in "the most stable companies in the united states" didn't think they needed 401k's or other investments. Now they are out of a job, hope they still have a good retirement, and are often times left with stock options in their companies that are worth little now. Not to mention michigans brightest minds are leaving the state to head to more prosperous area's.

Posted by: rhaskell | October 29, 2008 8:21 AM | Report abuse

Not to mention michigans brightest minds are leaving the state to head to more prosperous area's.

Posted by: rhaskell | October 29, 2008 8:21 AM | Report abuse

Grammar Police!

Posted by: jezebel3 | October 29, 2008 8:23 AM | Report abuse

Good work jezebel3!!!!

Posted by: rhaskell | October 29, 2008 8:28 AM | Report abuse

Labor is a Commodity. If a business is no longer competitive paying you phat paychecks and has to cut back, it can either cut back on wages, layoff workers, or go out of business. You have a choice, if you don't like your prospects, relocate. Nobody says you have to live in Michigan. There are good paying jobs elsewhere in the economy. Be glad we don't live in a single economy country anymore.

Posted by: AlbyVA | October 29, 2008 8:50 AM | Report abuse

Every time we have a downturn there are all these articles about how individual people are hurting. What about the 94% who have jobs, the overwhelming majority of people who are keeping up with their mortgages? Certainly that's not 'news' because it is reality for vast majority of people. The core issue is that Mr. Rowley expects someone else to make everything great, and that's not the way life is. We are the architects of our own destiny, not the government or anyone else.

Posted by: buckspa2002 | October 29, 2008 9:02 AM | Report abuse

“If he does half of what he says, what he wants to do, he’ll be the best president ever. If he does half!” Rowley, said

Right, Right and Right again! There is so much broken either by incompetence or by the Republicans intentional greed and pilfering of American trust !!!!

Wrenn is a staunch Republican and although the polls show the economic downturn has pushed more voters into Obama’s camp, she doesn’t buy Obama’s message of change. She supports John McCain...

“Obama’s not going to get into office and immediately things are going to change and it’s all going to be this rosy fix to everything,” she said

No it won't be rosy you fool, but it will at least be in the right direction (see my comment above),
as Bush-McCain economics speak for themselves bringing on this catastrophe. If anyone over looks McCain's voting record supporting Bush 92% of time you also are a liar and can't be trusted - so get out of the way !

Posted by: danglingwrangler | October 29, 2008 9:17 AM | Report abuse

Question for danglingwrangler,,, what direction would that be exactly dangling? I mean, what direction will Osama be taking America? What did the republicans do to put this man where he is now. What will Osama do to change it? Exactly what the hell do you and your ilk mean by change?

Dim libs.

Posted by: WmJLePetomane | October 29, 2008 9:29 AM | Report abuse

The question should not have been if they will vote for Obama or McCain, but did they vote for Bush. If your home is gone, why should you care if it is Obama or McCain?

Posted by: kdoren | October 29, 2008 9:35 AM | Report abuse

I think the one thing that this story fails to mention is the CEO salary of Dick E Dauch. This past year, Dick E Dauch made over $10 million while asking American Axle workers to take a 50 to 60 percent page cut.

Also, one other note, clearly those leaving comments on this story not only do not know about the specifics of the contract the workers got (nice try in over simplifing it) but they also didn't follow the 11 week strike.

American Axle isn't a company in financial trouble. It's profitable. It's profitable because of the workers in the assembly plants and yeah that includes those in Three Rivers as well as those in Mexico and the new employees in Poland and Brazil (Dauch announced plans to open new factories in these countries right after contract ratification).

The axles made in Three Rivers are not just for SUVs, they make other supplies and parts as well and not only is it hard labor intensive work, it's also skilled work. It's tool and die work and requires precision.

During the strike, the Post barely covered the issues facing workers at American Axle. There were few stories discussing the outrageous payouts to Dick E Dauch (Note, I use his middle initial because his son Dick F Dauch is also an executive at AAM), but when there were stories printed, usually coming by way of the Detroit Free Press or AP, they were adamantly anti-worker, often making the case that these workers were over paid becuase in factories in Mexico, workers make pennies on the dollar for the same work.

At sometime, I hope we stop treating workers as if they are not only disposable but also treating them like they are paid too much. It's like that line from McCain when he told the building trades that they wouldn't quit their jobs and moved to Yuma to pick lettuce for $50 an hour, because it's hard work and there isn't any American who'd take that work. American workers are not disposable, and few make $50 an hour, they certainly weren't make that at American Axle, unless they were related to Dick Dauch (both of them).

Posted by: Bendygirl | October 29, 2008 9:44 AM | Report abuse

The lack of compassion of some of the posters here saddened me. They seem to blame this man for wanting a decent wage, a good job, and a family. As for the redistribution of wealth, God forbid we help out the 'little guy' instead of bailing out financial institutions run amok by reckless millionaires. I will comment on the change I hope a new administration would bring: greater taxation among people making over $250,000 a year so we can reduce national debt & pay for much-needed improvements in public transportation and infrastructure. Let's leave this country better off for future generations, not saddle them with Baby Boomer debt.

Posted by: ld333 | October 29, 2008 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Michigan is in the mess its in because of the left wing taking over the state. The tax policies have either driven businesses out, or caused ones still in operation great harm. As usual, liberals play the class warfare card, and as usual the Republicans are the rich, greedy, evil ones, while the little people(I suppose the Democrats)continue to suffer. I find it amazing that the Democrats continue to fool hard working Americans that they are the party of the people. They are the party that want to take from the people. They use minorities and labor union folks for their votes,then ditch them and retreat to their Georgetown dinner parties or Harvard classrooms. If Rowley is suffering through hard times now, just wait until a Socialist administration takes over the reigns of the government! This is America, get up off the ground, DO NOT believe the government is the answer, and keep pushing forward!

Posted by: LAWNMAN209 | October 29, 2008 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Er, in the fifth paragraph from the bottom...that would be "pooh-poohed it"? I hope?

Posted by: mouse71 | October 29, 2008 10:19 AM | Report abuse

If Rowley is suffering through hard times now, just wait until a Socialist administration takes over the reigns of the government!

Posted by: LAWNMAN209 | October 29, 2008 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Spelling Police!

Posted by: jezebel3 | October 29, 2008 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Why is there another Post story about how a divorced fellow that tries to keep his house has financial difficulties? This is, again, a story about the difficulties of divorce when it could be more about American Axle or the labor contract. At least if it is going to be a divorce story, they could get more into the settlement details. Probably he made the mistake of trying to keep the house as part of the split, instead of getting cash out of the deal and moving on.

Posted by: pptcmember | October 29, 2008 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Lawnman, you honestly think Democrats are the ones crowding Georgetown dinner parties??? Seriously? This is what astounds me - the Republicans' ability to convince working people that *Democrats* are the ones taking their money away. That's exactly how a guy making $10 million a year gets half his workforce to agree to a 50% paycut, while he continues to pocket his millions. What do you want to bet Mr. Dauch is voting for McCain?

Posted by: gettingdizzy1 | October 29, 2008 10:33 AM | Report abuse

Michigan is the bluest of the blue states. Just like New York

It has long-serving democratic majorities, 19th century big-labor rules, which have morphed into "me-first" political-lobbying groups and special interests, and the biggest killer - high taxes.

Last one out of MI and NY - please turn off the lights!

Posted by: pgr88 | October 29, 2008 10:41 AM | Report abuse

pptcmember-to answer your question... Mr. Rowley was divorced much earlier, so that was not a factor during the strike/wage cut. Thanks for posting.

Posted by: Travis Fox | October 29, 2008 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Dick owns the fricken company. He could shut the lights off tomorrow and none of them would have jobs.

The notion that he owes anything to his workers is ridiculous as is the notion that machinists should earn six figures.

If they think they're getting a raw deal, they should move on.

Posted by: tonynelson1 | October 29, 2008 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Did you see where McCain adviser Carly Fiorina said the other day that the government should just let the American auto companies go down the tubes? She said that's the way the economic system works. Well, those companies represent jobs. Under Bush-Cheney, McCain-Gramm, the government wasn't shy in moving all kinds of money to big CEOs and wealthy corporations, drug companies, and insurance companies some of which later went bankrupt. How about doing something for the Middle Class? Instead of saying auto companies should go down the tubes, how about helping them build energy efficient cars and compete again, and then letting them pay you back like Chrysler did years ago. Do something to help working people. I agree with Tim. I'm voting for Obama.

Posted by: tinyjab40 | October 29, 2008 10:49 AM | Report abuse

It's GWBush's oligarchy gave us this bad economy and incredibly huge job losses. This is the real reason Demos will kill GOP elected offices next week. But, then, the Bushies and their GOP pals will be out of jobs too. It's only fair karma payback.

Posted by: buzziea | October 29, 2008 11:09 AM | Report abuse

pgr88, you are mistaken about Michigan. John Engler, a Republican, was governor of the state for many years (1991-2003). His administration was characterized by slashing taxes to the bone and privatizing a lot of state services. The impact of these policies is still being felt in Michigan today.

Posted by: ld333 | October 29, 2008 11:14 AM | Report abuse

tonynelson1, Dicke E Dauch is not the "owner" he's the founder. He's paid by way of his stockholders and yes, he's also a stockholder.

He owes where he is to his workers' work, that's why they are paid for their work. Take a 2005 CNN report on this issue:

"Still, it's quite a leap year over year, and it ranks on the high end historically. In 1990, for instance, CEOs made about 107 times more than the average worker, while in 1982, the average CEO made only 42 times more."

Posted by: Bendygirl | October 29, 2008 11:15 AM | Report abuse

bendygirl, you're correct. I was mistaken in thinking he had majority ownership. Frankly, I'm shocked that he doesn't own more of the company considering his record of success there.

I do, however, stand by my statement that high-school grad machinists shouldn't make more than family practitioners.

Seems to me like there is a sense of entitlement in the area that needs a reality check.

Posted by: tonynelson1 | October 29, 2008 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Anyone who doesn't think there will be 4 more years of Bush economics/policies if McCain/Palin get elected, is absolutely insane along with McCain and Palin and they deserve to have a depression.

Posted by: msreginacomcastnet | October 29, 2008 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Man, some of you neo-cons are harsh. Ease up a little. Take the lead of hunters in the swing state of Missouri: Share the Harvest.

Posted by: mytake1 | October 29, 2008 2:22 PM | Report abuse

McCain voted: against unions 104 times (every time); against alt. energy every time; against GI bill; favors tax breaks for companies outsourcing jobs.
Why does he pretend to support these?
Why do republicans pretend to believe him?

Obama has answers to the hard questions: he has no choice; the Bushies have driven this country into the ditch like none before.

Posted by: ukeman | October 30, 2008 9:03 PM | Report abuse

Like billions and billions of dollars of our tax money, this administration has also given most of our jobs to foreign countries. Perhaps we could immigrate to China or India to find our old jobs?
Thank God though that we've kept the Wall Street gamblers here...

Posted by: TerrifiedAmerican | October 31, 2008 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Someone needs to remind all you whiners that GM and the other manufacturers are still laboring under the burden of union demanded benefits, and the state government in Michigan is about as socialist as the one in Massachusetts.
You can't lay all the blame at the foot of the current administration.

Posted by: LarryG62 | October 31, 2008 1:42 PM | Report abuse

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