Ruth Jenkins of Erie, Mich., left, and Tonya Colbert of Toledo work at the Toledo Assembly complex, where employees have been putting in 60-hour weeks.
THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER
Chrysler Group LLC plans to hire up to 1,000 part-time employees for the Toledo Assembly complex to keep production rolling while giving regular employees the chance for a break.
“Our people have been working a tremendous amount of hours,” Plant Manager Chuck Padden said. “To get them more time off is important to us, to make sure they’re refreshed, and can work safely.”
With record demand for the Jeep Wrangler and the launch of the new Jeep Cherokee last year, employees are regularly working 60 hours a week. And while employees generally like the extra pay that results from working overtime, such lengthy stretches can wear on workers, he said.
A company spokesman said Monday that Chrysler has hired 380 temporary part-time employees this year, though 50 have been converted to regular, full-time employees.
Chrysler has collected applications for the jobs and is not currently accepting any more. Officials are in the process of conducting assessment testing and expect more employees to be brought on in the coming weeks.
Most of the new hires will get between 10 and 30 hours per week.
“It can vary, depending upon on the teams they’re on. Typically it’s a Friday-Saturday-Monday situation,” Mr. Padden said. “So if we’re scheduled for six days, TPT [temporary part-time] could be here three of them. Some of them might only work one day a week.”
The TPT employees are paid $15.78 an hour, the same rate as new full-time hires. They’re also offered limited benefits, including health insurance.
How long the new temporary part-time jobs last depends mostly on demand for the two vehicles built there.
While it isn’t unusual for automakers to use part-time help to ease the burden at busy plants, it’s not typically done to this level. Officials from the company and the union both said it’s an innovative solution that will boost production, allow weary workers more time off, and bring new employees into the plant.
Bruce Baumhower, president of United Auto Workers Local 12, said the help should take some of the load off employees who have worked long hours for a long time.
“They’ve worked through the Christmas shutdown the last couple years; they’ve worked through summer shutdowns. Summertime’s coming; they’ve got kids in Little League and other things,” he said. “They’ve done an unbelievable job of carrying the load.”
Mark Epley, UAW Local 12’s Jeep Unit Chairman and one of the key people in brokering the deal, said it’s important to get employees a little time off.
“You’ve gotta remember, these people are working 10 hours a day, six days a week,” he said.
The contract currently gives employees the right to take off a Saturday after working consecutive Saturdays. With the addition of part-time workers, employees will be able to take off other days as well.
“It’s very important to have the day off you want with your family,” he said.
The added help will allow the plant to run the Wrangler line every Saturday, which they haven’t been able to do. That’s important to Chrysler, which is trying to squeeze even more Wrangler production out of the plant this year after a record year in 2013.
That task falls on Mr. Padden, who took over as plant manager on Jan. 1.
Mr. Padden, 54, has been with Chrysler since 1995 and is on his third tour in Toledo. He most recently served as the launch manager for the Cherokee, then took over the top position in the plant following former plant manager Zach Leroux’s promotion to head of assembly operations for Chrysler.
“We’ve got a lot of good things going for us right now,” Mr. Padden said. “As the volume is picking up we’ll be one of the largest manufacturing sites in North America. We won’t talk specifics on the numbers, but we’ll be one of the largest manufacturing sites in North America with the two [lines] going at full tilt.”
Mr. Padden said Chrysler’s goal for the plant is to build 2,000 vehicles a day. Currently, employees at the Toledo Assembly complex build about 840 Wranglers and 990 Cherokees a day. Mr. Padden said the Cherokee line should reach full capacity in the year’s third quarter.
Right now the focus for Cherokee is on fine-tuning the build process and ramping up work on building international models. Jeep officials have said they plan to eventually sell the Cherokee in 150 countries.
“Every country has its own unique specifications they want to see. Everything from the way VIN stamps are put into a car to the way to the dashboard reads and the way the radio reads,” Mr. Padden said.
Chrysler expects about 15 percent of Cherokees built in Toledo to be destined for international markets.
Mr. Padden praised the work force in Toledo and its good working relationship with the company. He also understands Jeep’s importance to the city.
“It’s not just another company out there. We’re so integrated into the community of Toledo,” he said. “We recognize the interdependence of Jeep to Toledo. Continuing to work together, we hope to be here for a long, long time.”