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Bonus for German wOrkers Underlines
Trans-Atlantic Split at Daimlerchrysler

By Burt Herman   Associated Press
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BERLIN — It was hardly ideal timing: DaimlerChrysler's announcement of profit-sharing bonuses for its German workers came just as many Chrysler employees in the United States are worrying whether they'll still have jobs at all.

In the face of such harsh evidence of the split fortunes at Germany's most visible global company, DaimlerChrysler opted not to even publish the announcement in English. But in Germany, the payments were seen Friday as a natural reward for good work.

"It makes no sense to punish the successful workers at Mercedes because things aren't going well at Chrysler," said Christian Breitsprecher, an automotive analyst for Deutsche Bank.

The $1,470 bonus for DaimlerChrysler's 140,000 workers in Germany was absolutely routine, company spokesman Marc Binder said. It was the highest-ever bonus for the company's German side, up from $1,320 last year.

Those amounts actually pale in comparison to past bonuses received by workers for Chrysler, who got payments averaging $8,100 last year.

This year, Chrysler hasn't yet said how much it will be giving its employees, but analysts expect the sum to be much lower given the poor results at Chrysler that have dragged down DaimlerChrysler's overall showing.

"Even if it was the same amount as being distributed to the German employees, it's still a tremendous drop," said John Revitte, a professor at Michigan State University's School of Labor and Industrial Relations.

"I don't imagine that will go around very positively at Chrysler factories," he said.

All the more poignant, the bonus announcement came a day after the company posted large operating losses for last year, with its U.S. arm weighing down the bottom line. DaimlerChrysler did not release specific numbers for each division, but its German operations are expected to show a strong earnings performance when figures are revealed Feb. 26.

Chrysler is expected to unveil fourth-quarter losses of at least $1 billion — along with a turnaround plan by new head Dieter Zetsche. Zetsche said last month he would cut 26,000 jobs over three years.

Although the idea of a trans-Atlantic "merger of equals" has been disproved as German executives took over ailing Chrysler, there's also simple logistical reasons why the two halves aren't the same — the vastly different labor environment in the two countries.

German workers generally get lower profit-sharing bonuses. But unlike their American counterparts, they receive an additional "Christmas money" bonus in November, set in their contracts as 55 percent of a month's pay. Auto workers in the United States instead get paid time off over the holidays when factories typically shut down.

"It's completely different, the systems in Germany and the United States," said DaimlerChrysler's Binder.

Erich Klemm, who represents DaimlerChrysler employees on the company board, said he was happy management had decided to link profit-sharing payments to earnings for workers at the Mercedes-Benz passenger car, Smart compact-car and truck divisions — and not to overall profits.

In announcing the bonuses, there was simply no consideration of how the numbers might affect worker morale across the Atlantic, spokesman Binder said.

"We have to announce those figures because our employees expect the figures," he said.

It was actually a then-struggling Chrysler that was one of the first automakers to introduce profit sharing 20 years ago.

For years, workers at other companies have looked on jealously at Chrysler's higher bonuses made possible because it has fewer workers, Revitte said. The bonuses at General Motors Corp., the world's largest automaker, reached an all-time high last year of $1,775.

Now that things have turned sour again at Chrysler, the bonuses in Germany could be another sore point in growing resentment about the 1998 merger, Revitte said.

In Detroit "there's a lot of blame to the Germans for ruining a good company," he said.

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