TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- The UAW expects to approve work rules at the new Jeep Wrangler plant in Toledo, Ohio, that are as least as flexible as those at Jeep's Liberty plant in Toledo.
The Liberty plant, which opened in 2001, has just three job classifications for production workers and five for the skilled trades, says Bruce Baumhower, president of UAW Local 12 in Toledo.
The Wrangler plant may have even fewer classifications when it opens in August 2006.
Larry Drake, CEO of Kuka Group USA, said last week at the Management Briefing Seminars here that the 310 Kuka workers who will build Wrangler bodies next year will have just two trade classifications: mechanical and electrical.
That's similar to work rules prevailing at North American assembly plants run by Asian and European manufacturers.
Baumhower said it's too early to say what the work rules will be at the plant. Kuka, which is nonunion nationally, still has to conduct a card check in its Toledo body shop to determine whether workers want UAW representation.
But Drake says he would like to see the UAW at the Kuka Toledo operation. And Baumhower said the union knows that the flexibility to move workers from job to job is critical not only for competitiveness but also to protect workers from repetitive stress injuries and other health issues.
The Jeep Wrangler plant is a unique manufacturing model for the Chrysler group. Kuka is one of three suppliers that is investing a combined $300 million in the plant to run the paint, body and chassis operations.
Chrysler will build a two-door and a four-door Wrangler there.
Kuka's 250,000-square-foot body shop has been built. It will have peak capacity of about 150,000 units per year.
Baumhower says the 600 UAW workers at the Jeep Parkway plant in Toledo, where the current-generation Wrangler is built, will get preferential hiring treatment at the new Wrangler plant. The Parkway plant will close when the new plant opens.
The Liberty plant also gets a second model in 2006, a Liberty-like vehicle for another Chrysler brand. Baumhower says the Liberty and Wrangler plants are expected to produce about 460,000 units per year, up from 321,768 units built at the Liberty and Parkway plants in 2004.
The Toledo job will be Kuka's first as a component maker. The company, whose North American operation reported revenue of about $200 million last year, specializes in building body shop and assembly line equipment.
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