May 29, 2009

Grand Rapids Auto: Tony

This is the fourth post of a BAGnewsOriginals series, Grand Rapids Auto, exploring the economic crisis through the life of a family-owned Chrysler dealership. Christina Clusiau is a New York based photographer who has been returning to her hometown in Northern Minnesota to photograph and interview members and employees of Tom Clusiau Sales and Rental Service Inc.

Tony Bickford is a mechanic who has been with the dealership for 12 years. He does all the front end work, brakes, alignments, etc. These are some of his thoughts on Detroit and the business environment as conveyed to Christina Clusiau.

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On the auto industry:

Well, see, the big CEOs get way, way too much money. I never understood, how come me as a technician has to know the car inside and out, front to back and get paid a hell of a lot less than anyone at the assembly line? All they have to do is put four tires on all day long. And a CEO or president gets multi-million dollars in bonuses that don’t help out the industry, so that’s part of the reason the auto industry went down.

On the economy:

Part of the problem was with Bush and the gas prices; it wasn’t necessarily the housing market. It was the gas prices, everybody could afford their house payment up until the gas prices went to $4.00 a gallon and all of a sudden you are pushing the auto industry. Who could afford a house payment along with a new car payment and the gas prices at $4.00 a gallon? There are a lot of people that went under because of the gas prices; they could probably have made the house or car payment, but not both.

If people do have any money, they are not going spend it, they are going to save it. Unless they have to spend it – it’s like working on broken vehicles, if it’s broke down they are going to fix it and not buy a new one – because why buy a new one, why chance it when the gas prices might shoot back up next month? It was the gas prices that killed off everything else, it was the oil companies trying to line their pockets.

On job security:

As far as the auto industry, I don’t know what’s going to happen with the business, but from my personal eyes I don’t plan on staying a mechanic until retirement age, because what’s the sense of working my butt off for nothing? So, I would just get out, move on and do something else, like half the rest of the technicians, because to know it inside out, front to back and get paid less, it don’t make no sense.

If the whole auto industry went bankrupt, I don’t know if it would bother me. I would bring my toolbox home and turn wrenches on what I could and it wouldn’t matter. I mean, it’s not a good aspect, but I would just move on earlier than normal.

On foreign cars:

I don’t know that the foreign vehicles can do any better, I don’t know if they are better designed. Since we merged with Daimler at that one point, I haven’t seen any better concepts…I can’t say they are any better than any American car.

(images: Christina Clusiau, April 2009. See slide show captions for photo information)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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