Weeks before DaimlerChrysler AG and supplier partners are to start work on prototypes at a $900 million multifactory complex, a smooth launch of the redesigned Jeep Wrangler is under threat by Toledo Jeep Assembly workers upset that skilled tradesmen from outside are filling jobs.
Kuka Group, of Germany, which will build bodies for two-door and four-door versions of the Wrangler, and vehicle-painter Haden International Group Inc., of Michigan, have filled about 90 of at least 110 skilled trades jobs at the complex, a top union official said.
But fewer than 40 of those jobs at the supplier factories were filled by Toledo Jeep workers - even though Jeep workers were promised preferential hiring under an agreement reached two years ago, said Dan Henneman, chairman of United Auto Workers Local 12's Jeep unit.
Meanwhile, 25 skilled tradesmen at Toledo Jeep remain on layoff and 140 others will lose their jobs when Jeep Parkway shuts down next year, Mr. Henneman added.
Production on the revised Wrangler is slated to begin in July.
"So far, we've lost 56 opportunities for our skilled trades," Mr. Henneman told The Blade yesterday. "They're hiring them off of the street."
Jeep workers were to receive preferential hiring under an agreement Chrysler and Local 12 negotiated in 2003. The deal allows suppliers to do some Wrangler work in exchange for a $2.1 billion expansion doubling the number of vehicles made in Toledo to four.
That agreement spawned the $900 million complex nearing completion off Stickney Avenue. Part will be owned by Kuka, Haden, and South Korean chassis supplier Hyundai Mobis.
Said Bruce Baumhower, Local 12's president, "The suppliers need to understand the only reason those buildings are going up is because of the efforts of the Jeep workers."
Union and Chrysler officials are discussing the hiring issue, which the Jeep committee has worked on for months, the Local 12 officials said.
"It absolutely has to be resolved if there's any hope of having a successful launch," Mr. Baumhower said.
Chrysler spokesman Ed Saenz declined to comment yesterday.
Mr. Henneman said about 20 skilled trades jobs at Haden have been filled from outside because Chrysler did not give workers with 28 years seniority pre-retirement leaves or address recall issues.
After those issues were worked out for eligible skilled tradesmen, Kuka officials said the workers were not sufficiently qualified, he added.
Larry Drake, president and chief executive of Kuka Flexible Production Systems Inc., the group's Sterling Heights, Mich., arm, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Mr. Henneman contended that both Kuka and Haden are not following seniority rules and are saying some workers are unqualified as they interview Toledo Jeep workers for new production jobs.
The two factories will have more than 200 production jobs, and 210 production workers with at least 30 years of seniority are interested, he has said.
The complex is slated to begin building Wrangler prototypes in February, with production of the four-door version starting in July.
A dissident group called Union Members for a Better Jeep circulated a flyer at Toledo Jeep yesterday protesting hiring practices at Haden and Kuka.
It plans to hold a rally but a date hasn't been set, a member said yesterday.
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