After 30 years of labor peace, UAW leaders said that a respectful relationship between the union and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is threatened by a decision by the automaker to close a Toledo transportation terminal that supplies the local Jeep assembly plant with auto parts.
Bruce Baumhower, president of UAW Local 12, which represents 88 drivers at the truck terminal, said the union was not allowed to negotiate the closing, per the contract. Sixteen of the workers got pink slips Monday.
At a press conference-rally Monday at Local 12 headquarters, Mr. Baumhower said that by closing the terminal and bidding the work to outside firms, Chrysler is violating anti-outsourcing language in the contract and the union may be forced to respond in ways the company will not like.
“They’ve reverted back to the old ways they did business,” Mr. Baumhower said. “I don’t think they want us to revert to the old ways we did business.”
Nearly all the affected workers attended the rally dressed in red T-shirts with the words “Keep the Fleet.” Also attending the rally to show support was Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken, who is a former Jeep plant worker, and new Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz.
Rich Rankin, director of UAW Region 2-B, said the closure of the transportation terminal must be negotiated according to the union contract that expires in 2019.
“In the UAW, we try to work well with our partners. Toledo, they got things done. It’s upsetting to me and the International … that (Chrysler) won’t sit down and negotiate,” he said.
In a statement Monday, Chrysler spokesman Jodi Tinson said, “FCA US has been in discussions with the UAW for over two years and will continue to work with the union to find placement opportunities for any impacted employees of” the terminal.
Ms. Tinson added that the company is adding more than 700 jobs in Toledo with the production of the next generation Wrangler and the Jeep truck, while investing more than $1 billion for the two products. Employees impacted by the closing will find new jobs, she said.
However, Mr. Baumhower said members of Local 12 were never part of any negotiations regarding the fate of their members at the truck terminal. The Local 12 president said the first time he learned of the decision was on Oct. 25 when he got a call from then-Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson telling him a WARN notice had been filed regarding the loss of 92 employees at the terminal and could the city of Toledo offer assistance.
Mr. Baumhower said the union later met twice with Chrysler officials to see if the decision could be negotiated.
“We were told it was too late. It’s already gone,” he said.
The WARN notice filed with the state of Ohio announcing the permanent layoffs was sent to Mr. Baumhower and to Norwood Jewell, then-UAW vice president and director of the union’s Chrysler Department.
Mr. Jewell had been linked to a federal investigation into a joint fund set up by the UAW and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles for safety training workers and new technologies.
Mr. Jewell's predecessor, the late General Holiefield, was the main figure in the government probe, which led to charges against four people, including Mr. Holiefield's widow.
Mr. Jewell has not been charged with any crimes in the case, but as it unfolded it was revealed he had accepted from the FCA training staff a birthday gift of a shotgun valued at more than $2,000, paid for out of joint training funds. He returned the shotgun when he discovered the source of the money for the gift.
In November, Mr. Jewell was passed over when the UAW’s administrative caucus drew up its election slate of top officers for its upcoming constitutional convention in June. Rather than serve out the remaining six months on his term, Mr. Jewell chose to retire in December at age 60.
Roger Weckerlin, Local 12’s Toledo Terminal unit chairman, said he could understand the situation if Chrysler was getting out of the trucking business altogether. But it is only closing the Toledo terminal while a similar terminal in Detroit that employs 500 workers is remaining open.
Workers at the Toledo Terminal have come to Chrysler’s aid so many times that the closing feels like a slap in the face.
“We were the first unit in the industry to accept the two-tier wage to help Chrysler stay afloat,” Mr. Weckerlin said. “We helped keep them out of bankruptcy, and this is what we get.”
Mr. Baumhower said he has been seething quietly ever since he was told by an outsider of the WARN notice.
“They’re saying, ‘It’s just 80 people. So what?’” he said. “But they’re going to find out that whether it’s 80 or just one, what the price is for that.”
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.