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As Detroit's crumbling auto industry asks Congress for a bailout, Chrysler is in the awkward position of paying about $30 million in retention bonuses to keep top executives while the company cuts thousands of jobs.

Chrysler owes the bonuses under its contracts with about 50 executives, based on a retention incentive plan crafted early last year by former German parent DaimlerChrysler, when it was preparing to sell the Chrysler unit.

Nancy Rae, Chrysler executive vice president for human resources and communications, said the move made sense at the time to ensure potential buyers that key Chrysler executives would remain in place after a sale. She acknowledged that the bonuses could be seen as controversial now.

“We all would be smarter if we knew what we know now back in February of '07,” she said. “Probably a lot of different decisions would be made.”

Chief executives of Chrysler LLC, General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. are expected to testify next week before a House committee on a proposal for $25 billion in low-cost government loans to help keep the companies afloat. Any aid is expected to come with limits on executive pay and bonuses. It is unclear whether those conditions would affect existing bonus plans — Chrysler's was hatched around April 2007 — or merely limit future bonuses and golden parachutes.

Retention bonus plans are fairly common in volatile times and at troubled companies that are straining to attract and retain top talent.

But they have been controversial in recent automotive industry bankruptcy cases involving suppliers Delphi Corp. of Troy and Toledo-based Dana Holding Corp. A 2005 change in U.S. bankruptcy laws forbade the payment of retention bonuses to executives just for staying at a company while it's in bankruptcy proceedings.

Documents obtained by the Free Press show that at least six Chrysler executives are due to receive bonuses of more than $1 million apiece to stay through August 2009, the two-year anniversary mark of when private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management bought an 80.1% stake in Chrysler.

Those promised the largest retention bonuses:

• Frank Ewasyshyn, executive vice president, manufacturing, $1.89 million.

• Frank Klegon, executive vice president, product development, $1.8 million.

• Rae, $1.66 million.

• Simon Boag, president, Mopar/global service and parts, $1.65 million.

• Steven Landry, executive vice president, North American sales, $1.63 million.

• Michael Manley, executive vice president, international sales, marketing and business development, $1.53 million.

The bonus sizes ranged from a high of Ewasyshyn's $1.89 million down to $200,000. The agreements provided for payments of 25% of the bonuses in February 2008 -- which were made on schedule -- and for the remaining 75% to be paid in August 2009.

Source: Detroit Free Press

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