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Published: Thursday, 11/29/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Chrysler takes control of Jeep Wrangler paint shop, will cost retirees jobs

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
UAW Local 12 President Bruce Baumhower, with Jeep paint shop workers who will lose their jobs Friday, says it will be a long time before his union can trust Chrysler management again. UAW Local 12 President Bruce Baumhower, with Jeep paint shop workers who will lose their jobs Friday, says it will be a long time before his union can trust Chrysler management again.
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Part of Chrysler Group LLC’s experiment using on-site suppliers to build the Jeep Wrangler is ending. The automaker will take full control of the paint shop after the end of the month.

Although 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 paint shop employees, 73 were Jeep workers with 30-plus years whom 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.

Bruce Baumhower, president of United Auto Workers Local 12, had strong words for Chrysler on Wednesday, saying it was unfathomable and unthinkable that Chrysler would force out workers it recruited to retire.

“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 news 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 contract with Chrysler, the newest workers make a base salary of $15.78 an hour. Longtime employees make about $28 an hour.

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 paint shop’s most recent operator, had filed notices with the state that it intended to lay off the entire work force. The contract was approved by a ratio of about 4 to 1.

When Chrysler opened the complex that builds the Wrangler in 2006, it did so with three on-site suppliers that did paint work, built the bodies, and assembled the chassis in their own facilities using their own work forces.

The paint shop has had the most tumultuous history of the three, with the initial partner backing out and the first operator going bankrupt shortly after the plant opened. Chrysler bought the facility and contracted with Magna International to operate the plant, which it did until last year.

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 recently.

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. “We had no meetings, no conversations with Chrysler. Chrysler worked it out with our national department and asked our members to ratify it, and they did.”

Mr. Baumhower was surrounded by about 30 workers who will lose 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.

“We thought we’d be there quite a while and that we could retire when we wanted,” said Darleen Cole. “Now we’re being forced out”"

Darlene Cole, left, Bob DeShetler, and Dora Martinez, whose jobs are being terminated, listen as UAW Local 12 President Bruce Baumhower tells them Chrysler did not try to save their jobs. Chrysler asked them to retire and work for a Jeep supplier; Chrysler is now taking the work in-house and getting rid of their jobs. Darlene Cole, left, Bob DeShetler, and Dora Martinez, whose jobs are being terminated, listen as UAW Local 12 President Bruce Baumhower tells them Chrysler did not try to save their jobs. Chrysler asked them to retire and work for a Jeep supplier; Chrysler is now taking the work in-house and getting rid of their jobs.
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Jerri Wisniewski, a 40-year Chrysler employee, and her husband, a 38-year Chrysler employee, are among those who will lose their jobs Friday.

“They asked us to come over here,” she said. “They said you can work as long as you like. You’re going to start this plant up, you'll have top seniority, we need you. We came over here. When they told us [they] were getting rid of us, I couldn’t believe that in a union I’ve been in for 40 years they could do something like that. But they did. They just said, ‘You guys are gone.’ ”

Mr. Baumhower said it’s fine if Chrysler wants to change how it manages its facility, but it shouldn’t lead to job losses.

“They want control of their quality and production schedules and costs,” he said. “That part makes sense to me. But our members should not be harmed because of management’s whims.”

Mr. Baumhower argues that a provision in UAW’s national contract allows retired workers to stop taking pension benefits in order to be re-employed but said that option wasn’t presented to the workers in question.

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

“This changes the relationship,” he said. “It’ll be a dark day before we are able to trust them on any new endeavors they want to implement again.”

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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