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Published: 1/27/2005

Jeep seat supplier to add workers

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Seats for the Wrangler and its successor will be supplied by Johnson Controls. Seats for the Wrangler and its successor will be supplied by Johnson Controls.
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A suburban Toledo auto-parts factory plans to more than double its work force to build seats for Jeep Wranglers, in what appears to be the first clear victory for the "Toledo Loves Jeep 2" campaign.

The campaign, to get DaimlerChrysler AG to use local companies or to have suppliers build operations in metro Toledo, apparently has resulted in Johnson Controls Inc. looking to add 51 workers this year and 95 next year at its Northwood factory to make seats for the Wrangler and its successor. The plant has about 120 workers now.

The company did not return phone calls yesterday seeking comment, and United Auto Workers officials declined to provide details. However, the UAW-produced Toledo Union Journal disclosed the supplier project this week.

The proposed $4 million project is related to the $2.1 billion expansion of the Toledo Jeep Assembly Plant that will double the number of vehicle models it makes to four. Three major suppliers are building factories next to Toledo Jeep to build chassis and to paint bodies for two of those vehicles.

Chrysler is in the process of lining up its smaller suppliers, however.

Bruce Baumhower, president of UAW Local 12 at Jeep and at Johnson Controls, said only that Johnson Controls has not finalized its decision on the Northwood project. Although there are issues to be resolved, he said, he is confident the project will go forward.

Johnson Controls plans to manufacture seats for the redesigned Wrangler next year in the Northwood factory built a few years ago to supply instrument panels for the Jeep Liberty, according to the union newspaper.

Local 12 members at Johnson Controls unanimously approved a contract modification Saturday that helped make way for their employer to transfer the existing and upcoming Wrangler work from a company factory in Taylor, Mich., according to the union.

It was unclear whether workers at that Michigan plant would keep their jobs, but the added jobs here are expected to be new hires.

The contract change in Northwood provides that new hires start at a lower wage and get pay increases over five years to reach pay levels of their counterparts. Until now, the catch-up period was two years.

The pay change will not affect current workers, but the wage delay enables the company to recoup some costs for the Wrangler-related project, the union paper said.

No wage levels were disclosed, but union employees at key area auto parts suppliers typically make $12 to $18 an hour.

Chrysler and the three on-site suppliers at Toledo Jeep are building a $900 million multifactory plant beside the factories that make Jeep Libertys and part of the Wranglers, east of Stickney Avenue along the north side of I-75.

Those new factories are to build the redesigned Wrangler next year and eventually a four-door version of the venerable Jeep. Toledo Jeep also is to build a Dodge version of the Liberty, which is to be redesigned.

Other parts suppliers, meanwhile, are laying the groundwork for operations in the Toledo area.

Jim Perry, president of North-Cross Industrial Development Co., said two potential suppliers to Jeep have bought options for land in North-Cross Industrial Park in north Toledo and a third is in the process.

Mr. Perry declined to name the companies, but said the two with options would create about 200 jobs.

During his State of the City speech Tuesday, Toledo Mayor Jack Ford said at least one and possibly three Jeep suppliers are looking to locate in Toledo. The mayor, through a spokesman, declined to comment further yesterday.

Local 12's goal is to locally supply seats for all four vehicles to be built at Toledo Jeep, including the Liberty, according to the Toledo Union Journal article. Johnson Controls currently builds Liberty seats at its factory in Rockwood, Mich.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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