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Published: Wednesday, 11/28/2012

Chrysler takes full control of Jeep Wrangler paint shop, 30 expect to lose jobs

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
UAW Local 12 President Bruce Baumhower announces changes at the Wrangler paint facility while UAW workers whose jobs are being terminated stand behind him Wednesday at the UAW Local 12 Hall in Toledo. UAW Local 12 President Bruce Baumhower announces changes at the Wrangler paint facility while UAW workers whose jobs are being terminated stand behind him Wednesday at the UAW Local 12 Hall in Toledo.
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Union leader Bruce Baumhower had strong words for Chrysler today regarding the automaker's decision to take full control of the Jeep Wrangler paint shop in Toledo.

Part of Chrysler Group LLC’s experiment using on-site suppliers to build the Wrangler is coming to an end at the end of the month.

Though the change won’t mean much -- if any -- change in how Wranglers are built, it will mean job losses for dozens of paint shop employees who went to work there after retiring from Chrysler.

Of the 175 current paint shop employees, 73 were Jeep workers with 30-plus years who Chrysler recruited to retire and join the new plant when it opened in 2006. Now that those working in the paint shop will be Chrysler employees, those workers are being let go. The people hired to replace them will be paid much less.

Mr. Baumhower, president of United Auto Workers Local 12, said it was unfathomable and unthinkable that Chrysler would force out workers it recruited to retire in the first place.

"Chrysler said it would keep lower paid, younger workers if the older ones voted for a contract that would terminate their jobs. These guys [are paid] tier one wages," Mr. Baumhower said at a press conference. "This was a money grab by the corporation to get rid of them and hire everybody in at tier two wages."

Under the UAW's current contract with Chrysler, the newest Chrysler workers make a base salary of $15.78 an hour. Longtime employees make about $28.

Mr. Baumhower said the one-year contract that eliminated jobs for the retirees was the only way to preserve the jobs of the other workers. Gonzales Contract Services, the most recent operator of the paint shop, had previously filed notices with the state saying it intended to lay off the entire work force. The contract was approved by a margin of about 4 to 1.

Jodi Tinson, a Chrysler spokesman, said company officials felt the paint process was one of the company’s core competencies, and felt they would be better served assuming responsibility for the facility.

Ms. Tinson said Chrysler has had control of the facility for some time, but the paint shop’s employees couldn’t be transferred into Chrysler Group until an existing union contract expired. And those who were Jeep retirees and drawing their pensions couldn't be transferred at all.

“By virtue of their retirement they cannot return to employment at the company,” Ms. Tinson said.

Mr. Baumhower said the company didn't try to find a solution in Toledo.

"Chrysler didn't work with this union at all," he said at a press conference.

Mr. Baumhower was surrounded by about 30 workers who will be losing their jobs Friday.

Many said they felt betrayed by Chrysler, and that they wouldn't have retired from the plant had they known they would be out of a job six years later.

Mr. Baumhower said the situation betrays the trust that had grown between the local union and Chrysler over the past 20-plus years.

The other two suppliers at the Chrysler Toledo Assembly Complex are unaffected by the change. Mobis North America builds chassis assemblies for the Wrangler, and Kuka Systems makes the bodies.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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