A top union representative yesterday accused DaimlerChrysler AG of violating a promise to give laid-off Toledo workers a chance at job openings at company facilities elsewhere, and warned that the issue could lead to a strike.
“We just won't accept this,” Bruce Baumhower, president of the union local that represents workers at the firm's Jeep assembly plant, told The Blade.
The dispute, which has simmered for eight months, was a key factor in the scheduling of an early strike authorization vote this week. The plant's 4,200 hourly workers will vote Thursday on whether to give leaders of UAW Local 12 authority to call a strike if this and other issues aren't settled by the time the plant labor contract expires Sept. 14.
DaimlerChrysler spokesman Dan Bodene wouldn't discuss the dispute, saying the car maker refrains from commenting on matters that are a subject of union grievances.
The parties have called in an outside arbitrator after they were unable to negotiate a settlement during a half-dozen meetings over the past few months. Workers at the Toledo assembly plant produce the automaker's popular Jeep Liberty and Wrangler models.
Nick Vuich, UAW chairman at the plant, said he backs Mr. Baumhower. “We've offered the company several solutions, but they haven't looked at anything at this point,” he said. “The only thing they've done is told us they've made a business decision on the matter.”
Union officials in Toledo are upset because the company filled 260 jobs late last year at a truck assembly plant and a stamping plant in Warren, Mich., near Detroit, without first offering them to workers laid off at the Toledo assembly operation.
About 800 people, half of whom participate in a job-sharing arrangement at the Toledo facility but who do not have permanent jobs, are laid off locally at least part of the year. About 160 of them had told the company in surveys that they were interested in relocating to Warren if jobs arose there, union officials said.
Local 12's contract with DaimlerChrysler, which is separate from the firm's national agreement covering other UAW plants, requires the company to offer jobs to Toledo workers after first offering them to workers laid off at plants covered by the national contract, Mr. Baumhower said.
The company offered the jobs to laid-off workers in Belvidere, Ill., and a number of other factories in the master agreement. But instead of then asking Toledo workers, Chrysler hired new people, Mr. Baumhower said.
Included in the roster of laid-off Toledo workers are about 400 transitional workers who were needed when most assembly operations were transferred from an old Toledo facility to a new assembly factory beginning in 1998. Unlike other laid-off UAW members at Chrysler who continue to be paid under the union contract, they were removed from the firm's payroll after six months.
Mr. Baumhower said Local 12's contracts with the car maker have specified for 16 years that laid-off workers here be given a shot at job openings elsewhere. This is the first time Chrysler has violated the clause, he added.
“This is a clear violation of the agreement and of our trust,” the union chief said.