Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Jeep UAW chief at loss to explain skilled trades' contract rejection

The United Auto Workers leader at the Toledo Jeep Assembly Plant where skilled-trades workers rejected work-rule provisions in a one-year contract proposal said he is not sure how the union will proceed next.

Nick Vuich, chairman of the Jeep unit of UAW Local 12 at the plant that makes Jeep Wranglers and Libertys, said yesterday he will talk to the skilled tradesmen first to get a better handle on their concerns and then with UAW leaders to determine the options available.

Toledo Jeep workers voted Tuesday to approve the main sections of a new contract with DaimlerChrysler AG that covers wages and benefits, but a specific section pertaining only to the skilled trades employees was spurned. Heavy overtime and laid-off skilled trades workers seem to be the main concerns.

The contract, expiring next Sept. 14 and providing a 3 percent wage increase and pension improvements, affects about 3,800 hourly workers and about 550 laid-off workers.

About 250 of the 700 millwrights, electricians, machine repairmen, and other skilled trades workers did not vote. The unit's rejection of its work rules does not nullify the effect of the general agreement for the three-factory plant.

Mr. Vuich plans to discuss the concerns with the skilled tradesmen at a regularly scheduled meeting tomorrow. The UAW's top leaders then will outline options, which could include a strike, accepting the rejected terms, or working under the prior agreement.

The last similar dispute at the plant occurred in 1985 and was resolved by employees working under the prior contract, Mr. Vuich said. He said he doubts a strike will occur.

Company spokesman Dan Bodine said the company is awaiting word from the UAW on the issue. ``The ball is kind of in the union's court.''

Initial feedback from skilled trades workers, Mr. Vuich said, indicates most of the discontent centers on layoffs. Some workers were upset that jobs are being eliminated in the plant and outside contractors are being hired for jobs that could be done by skilled trades workers. The issue has been worsened by the permanent layoff of 30 skilled tradesmen and a job-share program that has 100 others working less than full time.

Workers also have grown weary of the continual 10-hour days, which the company said are needed to produce enough vehicles, but which some employees say should be lessened by recalling laid-off workers.

``We had been warning the company from the start that there was a morale issue going on within the plant,” Mr. Vuich said.

Tom German, a Jeep machine repairman, said many skilled trades workers wanted more long-term job security provisions in the contract. The union had said it wanted the pact to include the a third shift at the plant, but no such extra work was negotiated.

In his work area, Mr. German said, just 10 to 12 skilled tradesmen are left, each working overtime, compared with 60 workers a year ago. Further, the company's use of outside contractors to do some work his colleagues could do also angers the skilled tradesmen, he added.

Jim Garn, a machine repairman, said many of the 90 former members of Local 4, Mechanical Education Society of America, voted against the agreement. Local 4 members became part of the UAW in 1997. Mr. Garn and 16 other former Local 4 members have sued the UAW for $33.5 million, alleging they were discriminated against in favor of millwrights and electricians at the plant who were not members of their former union.

He complained that the contract does nothing to address seniority issues that have pitted the former Local 4 members against electricians and millwrights. Nearly all of the laid-off skilled tradesmen are former Local 4 members, he said.

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