When they do, they'll give transferring employees the first shot. The companies also sometimes hire from pools of temporary workers, who often got their initial job through referrals.
Chrysler, Ford and GM declined to say how many recent hires had connections to current employees, and they said they didn't track how many had been previously unemployed.
Transfers and temps
Most of the new jobs at Ford's Michigan Assembly were split between transfers and workers who had been temporary employees, some for as long as 12 years. Temporary workers are covered by the contract but do not have job security like full-time employees.
The remaining 20 percent of the new jobs went to newly hired temporary workers, said Bill Johnson, chairman of UAW Local 900. Many Local 900 workers were disappointed when Ford didn't use any employee referrals for those remaining jobs, he said.
Using referrals helps ensure new hires do quality work, Johnson said. For instance, parents tell their children, " 'I referred you. You're not going to ruin my name,' " he said.
Chrysler: More open?
Chrysler takes only online applications at www.chryslercareers.com — the only careers site among the Detroit Three to accept applications for hourly jobs, in addition to salaried ones.
The job postings are closed when Chrysler receives a certain number of applications.
"We don't want people to have the anticipation of a position when there are thousands of people ahead of them," said Rick Munson, who oversees human resource business systems.
Derek Johnson of Detroit is looking elsewhere after he applied on Chrysler's jobs site but did not hear back. Johnson, 22, has been laid off for a year.
"I think there's options," he said of the Detroit job market.
Even if Johnson can't land one of the Detroit Three's new jobs, other jobs will probably open up as those who accept primo auto industry jobs leave their current positions, said Kristin Dziczek, director of the Center for Automotive Research's labor group.
"The whole state benefits when the auto industry is doing well," Dziczek said. "That opens up lots of other opportunities for job seekers in the economy."