TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- The UAW has accepted flexible work rules at the Chrysler groups remodeled Jeep Wrangler plant in Toledo, Ohio, similar to those prevailing at North American assembly plants run by Asian and European manufacturers, a key supplier executive said Monday.
Larry Drake, CEO of Kuka Group, said the 310 Kuka workers who will build Wrangler bodies next year will have just two trade classifications: mechanical and electrical.
That will enable German supplier Kuka to move employees around more easily to various jobs, said Drake, who is responsible for Kukas North American operations. Drake spoke about flexibility during Mondays world-class manufacturing panel at the Management Briefing Seminars.
Drake praised UAW Local 12 President Bruce Baumhower for accepting that level of flexibility, a hallmark of work rules at Asian and European assembly plants in North America. Kuka, which is nonunion nationally, expects to conduct a card check in its Toledo body shop to determine whether its workers want UAW representation. Attempts to reach Baumhower Monday afternoon were unsuccessful.
Local 12 was willing to look at this idea, Drake said. It is a very forward-thinking union. I think that Bruce Baumhower wants to show Nissan and Toyota that they can do this.
He doesnt want to talk about the past. He really wants to talk about how he can get more product down there and how he can be more flexible.
Kuka is one of three automotive suppliers that invested a combined $300 million in the Chrysler group plant in Toledo and will run the paint, body and chassis operations.
Kukas 250,000-square-foot body shop has been constructed. It ultimately will have a peak capacity of about 150,000 units a year, although it will not be at that capacity when the remodeled plant begins production in August 2006.
Drake declined to comment on the number of Jeep bodies his shop would have to produce in a given year to make money. But he said companies in his business generally would feel good to make margins of 3 to 4 percent.
The Toledo job will be Kukas first as a production component maker. The company specializes in building body shop and assembly line equipment.
Kuka has more than tripled its North American revenue since 1999. The company posted revenue of more than $200 million last year. Baumhower said new model launches by Chrysler and Ford Motor Co. have fueled growth.
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