DETROIT — Nearly 10 years after Chrysler collapsed into bankruptcy, its owner is promising to bring a manufacturing surge to the Motor City that would provide a shot in the arm for the UAW.
If completed as envisioned, the $4.5 billion investment Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced last week would create a truck-building empire on Detroit's east side and add 6,500 jobs in the region. The most impactful piece would be a revamp of FCA's Mack Avenue Engine Complex — including the idled Mack II engine plant — into a hub for the next-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee and a new three-row, full-size Jeep SUV.
But while city, UAW and FCA officials celebrated the prospect of another assembly plant within city limits, there's one catch: It's not a done deal yet.
To secure the Mack project, the city has less than two months to acquire about 200 acres of land from various owners.
Asked what would happen if the city can't secure the extra land, FCA said only: "We have full confidence in the city of Detroit."
If the city delivers on the land, and secures the 3,850 jobs that come with the Mack project, it could have big implications for labor talks with the UAW beginning this summer. For one thing, FCA would come to the bargaining table on the verge of surpassing GM's hourly worker count.
According to profit-sharing announcements from the automakers, GM has 46,500 U.S. hourly workers compared with FCA's 44,000. Between the new Jeep plant and planned GM layoffs, FCA is nearly certain to pass GM in the number of U.S. factory workers. GM would end up with the smallest hourly work force among the Detroit 3.
It could also help ease tensions between the rank and file and UAW leadership, said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics at the Center for Automotive Research. Relations were frayed by a scandal involving union leaders accepting bribes from FCA officials in exchange for labor peace.
Yet she wonders how much credit UAW leaders will get from members, saying that some workers could view the investments as inevitable responses to product and political demands that didn't require much of a lift from the union brass.
Dziczek said FCA will be buoyed by going into UAW talks with major investment goals as GM did in 2015. "We don't have language in the contracts that guarantee job security anymore," she said. "You get a good product that sells on the market. That's your job security."