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Ex-Jeep paint shop employees sue


    Jeep Toledo Assembly Complex, Friday, Oct. 3, 2014.

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    Jeep Toledo Assembly Complex, Friday, Oct. 3, 2014.

    The Blade/Andy Morrison
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    Jeep Toledo Assembly Complex, Friday, Oct. 3, 2014.

    The Blade/Andy Morrison
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Over 50 former Jeep Wrangler paint shop workers who lost their jobs in 2012 have filed a pair of lawsuits lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the United Auto Workers International Union, alleging the automaker and a corrupt union leader colluded in order to terminate their employment in order to hire younger workers at lesser pay rates.

Additionally, the lawsuits, which were filed in U.S. District Court in Toledo and seek class action status, allege that after the workers were terminated, the union leader “sold” their job to new hires, mostly from Detroit, who paid kickbacks to the union leader in exchange for employment.

One lawsuit names Robert DeShetler, Jr., of Holland, and Elizabeth Wesley of Temperance, Mich., as the lead plaintiff for 55 former Jeep workers. The other names Richard Sheets of Oregon and Nichole Wawrzyniak of Perrysburg as lead plaintiffs on behalf of 49 former workers.

The lawsuits, which were filed Thursday, seek a jury trial and were assigned to Judge Jack Zouhary. The plaintiffs are seeking reinstatement to their jobs; damages that include back pay, front pay, compensatory awards, and punitive awards, and attorney’s fees.

The workers are being represented by the firm of Murray and Murray of Sandusky.

The case’s history begins in 2004 and culminates in workers’ firings in 2012.

Of 175 paint shop employees, 73 were Jeep workers with 30-plus years whom Chrysler recruited in 2004-2006 to work and provide experience in the then-new paint shop, which was to be independently operated at the new Jeep plant’s supplier park.

The lawsuit says the company insisted the 73 should “retire” from Chrysler. They could then draw a company pension and also work in the paint shop for as long as they wished.

But Chrysler later retook ownership of the paint shop and the “retirees” were later declared to be employees of a private operator, Gonzales Contract Services.

In late 2011, Chrysler and the UAW decided to end the agreement, with the automaker taking full control of the paint shop. The “retirees” were let go in favor of younger Chrysler employees.

The lawsuit says the agreement that terminated the paint shop workers was negotiated between then-UAW Vice President General Holiefield and Chrysler executive Alphons Iacobelli. The workers’ local representative, UAW Local 12, was excluded from negotiations.

General Holiefield died in March, 2015, but he was under criminal investigation and indictments unsealed in July 2017 accused him of receiving bribes from Mr. Iacobelli in exchange for favorable treatment in collective bargaining negotiations.

Allegedly, Mr. Iacobelli diverted up to $4.5 million from Chrysler from a joint UAW-Chrysler National Training Center to the individual pockets of Mr. Holiefield, his family, and close associates.

Detroit newspapers reported Tuesday that Mr. Iacobelli is expected to take a plea deal for his role in the scandal.

Up until now, the paint shop workers who lost their jobs in 2012 had resigned themselves to their fate. Severance agreements they were required to sign forbid them from suing the union or Chrysler, and all attempts at appealing their job loss were rejected by the UAW and the automaker.

The lawsuits states that once the indictments were made public it was revealed that Mr. Holiefield and others were “selling” the paint shop jobs to unemployed workers in exchange for kickbacks.

The suit states that there have been “individuals who have acknowledged ‘buying’ their jobs.” It adds that a “suspiciously large number of individuals who were hired to replace [the retirees] relocated from Detroit to accept positions in the Wrangler Paint Shop.”

Contact Blade Business Jon Chavez at jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.

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