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Attorney asks court to reopen employee's suit against FCA, UAW

An attorney representing a group of 34 employees at the Toledo Assembly Complex is asking a federal judge to reopen a case they unsuccessfully brought against both Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the United Auto Workers two years ago.

The employees, all of whom were hired as temporary part-time workers in 2007, argued FCA had violated their contractual rights by waiting until 2013 to hire them as regular full-time workers despite the fact they were regularly working full-time hours.

That delay, Cleveland attorney Kenneth Myers argued on their behalf, effectively resulted in a pay cut of several dollars per hour.

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After hearing more than 20 depositions, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey J. Helmick of the Northern District of Ohio granted a summary judgment in favor of the UAW and FCA in July. In his ruling, the judge wrote he had found no evidence the plaintiffs had ever tried to go through the proper internal appeals process. 

The 34 plaintiffs had appealed Judge Helmick’s decision to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is set to hear arguments in March.

However, with Fiat Chrysler’s former labor relations chief Alphons Iacobelli pleading guilty late last month to conspiracy and to filing a bogus tax return — the third person to do so in the widening federal probe into a corruption and money laundering scandal — the attorney representing the group is arguing that it’s reasonable for the lower court to reopen the case.

There have been no specific allegations that the actions being investigated by federal authorities tie into the case of the 34 Toledo employees, but Mr. Myers said the situation does warrant another look. 

“We don’t know specially what's coming down the pike, but had I known six months or a year ago what’s already out there, it would have changed the whole nature of the case,” he said in a phone interview.

Mr. Myers filed his motion requesting the appeal be put on hold and the lower case be reopened last week. The court has yet to respond. 

The UAW contract with FCA shows that when temporary workers are hired on as full time, they are treated the same as new employees in terms of pay and the probationary period.

Because the 34 started in 2007, before the UAW agreed to a two-tier wage structure, they were being paid the top-tier wage as temps. Once they were hired as full time in 2013, their wages dropped to the lower, second-tier wage.

The most recent contract, signed in 2015, phases out the two-tier wage structure, with lower-tier workers being put on a path that will take them to nearly $30 an hour after eight years of employment, the same level as veteran workers. 

Although the UAW initially filed a grievance on behalf of the 34, it was ultimately withdrawn.

But the plaintiffs argued that the grievances should not have been withdrawn, and that they weren’t told of that until the deadline for them to appeal to the UAW had passed.

A spokesman for the UAW in Detroit declined to comment.

In an emailed statement, Fiat Chrysler said: “FCA US prevailed in this matter on summary judgment and will oppose a motion to remand.” 

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com419-724-6134, or on Twitter @TyrelLinkhorn.

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