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Union leaders brainstorm on stopping Chrysler sale

From freep| April 04,2007

Canadian, European and U.S. union leaders plan to meet this evening in Berlin to discuss their resolve against the sale of the Chrysler Group.

On Wednesday, DaimlerChrysler AG will hold its annual shareholders meeting, a time when the company's management and supervisory board publicly reviews the past year's performance and hears from stockholders.

Labor's message is clear, Canadian Auto Workers President Buzz Hargrove said.

"We're opposed to the sale. Anybody that's buying it has to weigh that and figure out what that all means," Hargrove said in a telephone interview Monday. "Anybody who thinks that they are going to buy it and throw a lot of our people out of work without a fight ... is misreading this."

Meanwhile Handelsblatt, a leading German business newspaper, was to report today that DaimlerChrysler will change its name possibly to Daimler Group if Chrysler is sold, according to the European news service AFX.

People inside DaimlerChrysler say Chairman Dieter Zetsche will not announce a sale Wednesday.

In recent days, the company has worked to dampen speculation that reached intense levels in Stuttgart and in Detroit after Zetsche announced in February that all options are on the table for the Chrysler Group.

The Auburn Hills-based unit lost $1.5 billion last year and is undergoing its second major restructuring in a decade. The plan involves the elimination of 13,000 jobs, closure of the Newark, Del., assembly plant and reduction in vehicle capacity.

If the decision is to sell Chrysler, people familiar with Zetsche's thinking say he feels beholden to finding a buyer that has good intentions for the carmaker.

"They have a certain responsibility. That may sound strange but if they hand that over to somebody who later turns out to have not had any sound business plan at the time of the transaction then it might cause difficulties for them," said Michael Raab, an analyst with Sal. Oppenheim in Frankfurt.

He added that Daimler executives could be concerned that a botched Chrysler deal could lead to a backlash in the United States against other Daimler products, such as Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner.

The CAW's Hargrove, who does not plan to make the trip to Berlin, is sending his aide, Bob Chernecki. He will meet with officials from the UAW and IG Metall, Hargrove said.

"We just want to be there ... if there is a debate or discussion about where we are heading," he said. "And to strengthen our resolve with the others in trying to do anything we can to stop DaimlerChrysler from selling the Chrysler Group."

Three groups have been investigating the possibility of a Chrysler purchase: Canadian auto supplier Magna International Inc., and equity firms Blackstone Group and Cerberus Capital Management.

There have been reports that Magna and Cerberus placed bids already but nothing has been confirmed. A German newspaper speculated that the bids could be as high as $9 billion; others told the Free Press that dollar amounts will not be set until later.

DaimlerChrysler officials remained tightlipped about the behind-the-scenes action.

Martin Daum, DaimlerChrysler vice president of production and head of the product unit Unimog/Specialty Vehicles, followed suit in a interview with reporters Monday at the Woerth truck plant.

"They are very good guys," he said of the U.S. unit.

In private, company officials are quick to point out that much of the speculation about the bidding is coming from people who are not involved in it.

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