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Hunting season kickoff brings auto factories to a screeching halt

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While most of the country will head routinely to work Friday, workers at General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group will get the day off.

Why? It's the start of deer-hunting season, a peculiar benefits quirk stemming from collective bargaining, corporate needs and Midwestern outdoors culture.

During contract negotiations in the late 1990s, the automakers agreed to make Veterans Day a paid day off — but with a catch. The United Auto Workers didn't necessarily want to celebrate Veterans Day.

Rather, its members wanted a flexible day off in November about the time hunting season starts. So they worked a deal: Give us a day off around Veterans Day — and let's make sure it creates a three-day weekend, and the closer to hunting season the better.

That's why this year everyone at the Detroit automakers worked Monday, the day Veterans Day was observed, and both union and salaried workers will be off Friday so those inclined toward firearms can go bag some deer.

The regular firearm season for hunting deer in Michigan opens today, according to the state's Department of Natural Resources. In Indiana, it starts Saturday.

The car companies say they like the flexibility. Automakers don't like shutting factories down in the middle of the week. It hurts efficiency. And then they worry about the high rates of absenteeism they experience at some factories at the start of hunting season. Having a flexible Veterans Day addresses both issues.

But at least automakers give workers some paid time off around both Veterans Day and the start of deer-hunting season. For those making guns at Smith & Wesson or Remington Arms Co., for instance, this is a regular workweek.

jerry.hirsch@latimes.com

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