Strike against TRW forces Chrysler plant to idle

CHICAGO/DETROIT (Reuters) - The Canadian Auto Workers called a strike on Thursday at a TRW Automotive Holdings Corp plant in Windsor, Ontario, forcing the idling of a nearby Chrysler LLC plant that assembles the automaker’s top-selling minivans.

Chrysler idled its Windsor Assembly plant at about 6 p.m. EST on Thursday and canceled overnight and Friday morning shifts at the plant employing about 4,400 hourly workers.

The Windsor Assembly Plant makes the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan, a pair of redesigned minivans that Chrysler needs to hold their own in a slumping auto market as it revamps its vehicle lineup and restructures its operations.

TRW planned to maintain production at the plant using salaried workers and hoped to resume talks with the CAW as soon as possible, spokesman John Wilkerson said.

The CAW had set a strike deadline of 3 p.m. on Thursday for reaching a settlement with the company, according to a posting on CAW Local 444’s Web site. A union representative could not be reached immediately for comment.

The strike marked the second walkout by union workers at a North American auto parts maker this week.

TRW’s Windsor plant supplies suspension modules and safety systems to the Chrysler assembly plant in Windsor.

Chrysler also builds its minivans in a St. Louis plant represented by the United Auto Workers. That plant was not affected by the TRW strike, spokeswoman Michel Tinson said.

Chrysler has been counting on a full year of the redesigned minivans to help shore up its retail sales at a time when it is cutting costs, revamping its vehicle line-up and pushing its dealers to merge franchise operations.

The Caravan was the top-selling minivan in the U.S. market last year, although sales were off almost 17 percent. On a combined basis, Chrysler sold more minivans than any other vehicle, with the exception of its Ram pickup truck.

As of the start of the month, Chrysler had an inventory equivalent to 57 days supply of sales of the Town & Country and 77 days supply for the Caravan, according to data compiled by Automotive News.

Earlier this week the UAW called a strike for more than 3,600 workers at American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc after contract talks broke down. No new talks are scheduled between the UAW and American Axle.

That strike has forced the idling of a General Motors Corp truck plant in Pontiac, Michigan.

Editing by Andre Grenon and Braden Reddall