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Published: Saturday, 8/31/2002

Union seeking authorization for Jeep strike

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

United Auto Workers members at DaimlerChrysler AG's Toledo Jeep Assembly Plant appear ready to bolster a strike threat in their union's negotiating arsenal, but leaders said they still hope to avert a walkout.

Two weeks before the expiration of the labor contract, the carmaker and UAW remain divided on a number of issues, led by job security.

Workers interviewed after a union briefing yesterday said UAW bargainers conceded that they haven't been able to get the company to agree to bring a third vehicle to the plant to create jobs. The move would create jobs for workers laid off as a result of production cutbacks.

The plant makes nearly all of the Jeep Wranglers and Libertys made worldwide.

“The company isn't committing to any additional product right now,” paint shop worker John Kubicz said. Union leaders long have sought another vehicle, but the company has resisted, noting that Toledo facilities are more fully used than some factories elsewhere.

Union members said they plan to vote in favor of strike authorization next week. Voting is scheduled from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Local 12 hall on Ashland Avenue. If approved, the vote would give UAW leaders the OK to call a strike if there is no agreement when the contract expires at 12:01 a.m. Sept. 14. The contract could be extended if progress is being made.

“We regard the strike authorization vote by UAW Local 12 as a normal part of the negotiation process,” DaimlerChrysler spokesman Michele Tinson said from the company's U.S. headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich. “We continue to negotiate privately, in good faith, with the goal of reaching an agreement that is in the best interest of both parties.”

“Obviously, we do not want a strike,” Nick Vuich, UAW chairman at the Toledo plant, said after the union briefing. “There are a number of issues still on the table. I'm confident that we can get them resolved. The vote is in the event we can't.”

He confirmed that job-security issues remain under discussion, but declined to provide details.

Issues previously cited include job cuts that have eliminated or reduced work for 500 permanent employees as well as 500 to 600 temporaries; the length of the contract; the extension of income protection programs that guarantee 95 percent of take-home pay to laid-off workers; the outsourcing of work to suppliers; and expansion of a job-sharing program as part of which higher-seniority workers take intermittent layoffs so that newer workers can stay on the job.

Toledo Jeep workers make about $22 an hour, plus benefits.

DaimlerChrysler employee Barbara Moore said she planned to approve the strike authorization and believed other workers would, too.

“If we don't get what we want, I'm quite sure there will be a strike,” she added.

Co-worker Skeeter Oliver agreed workers will OK a strike.

The roll-out of a new vehicle and move to a new plant with different work rules have created added stress and boosted tension between supervisors and rank-and-file workers, he said. He referred to the Liberty, which last year replaced the Cherokee, that is made at the new Jeep factory next to the older Stickney Avenue factory near I-75.

“It's a great place to work, but it's a hard place to work,” he said.

“We make good money. But in the old place, a lot of people sat around, did nothing, and collected a paycheck. In this new place, everybody works.”



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