The United Auto Workers in Northwest Ohio is working with the companies that employ its members to overcome the economic recession.
“We’re setting the standards for efficiency and quality and we give all the credit to the workers for achieving such success in an adverse climate,” said Ken Lortz, director of UAW Region 2B, which covers Ohio.
Lortz reported that Region 2B represents 164 different local units of the UAW and 297 collective bargaining agreements in Ohio.
“We’ve been working on three very positive steps for some time and we’re going to have some big announcements coming our way in the near future,” Lortz said about potential new business and jobs for this region.
Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur echoed that sentiment.
“I believe what the UAW has done in Northwest Ohio is transformational and it’s not been by accident. We’ve had phenomenal leadership in labor and management that’s unique in the industry. Workers here display an extraordinary work ethic,” she said.
Kaptur said she is optimistic about the future of the auto industry in Toledo but wishes that Japan would open its market to U.S. products and China would compete fairly.
“I believe Toledo is the center of the modern automotive industry in the U.S.,” she said.
UAW Local 12 represents 7,600 members of 53 different units in Northwest Ohio. About 2,400 of those workers are employed at Chrysler’s Toledo Assembly Complex (TAC), as Fiat recently renamed it.
TAC includes the Liberty plant, formerly known as the Toledo North Assembly Plant, which opened in 2001, and the Wrangler plant, formerly known as the Toledo Supplier Park, which opened in 2006.
Chrysler recently acquired the paint shop operations at the Wrangler plant from Magna International of Canada. Chrysler operates the final assembly there while the body shop is operated by KUKA, a German Company, and the chassis operation by Mobis North America, a division of Hyundai in Korea.
Highly rated neighbors
“The Toledo North (Liberty) Plant is currently underutilized running one shift and making 200,000 cars per year. It has the capacity to run two more shifts and build 400,000 vehicles per year,” said Bruce Baumhower, president of the UAW Local 12.
The Wrangler plant has been rated as the top automotive assembly plant in the United States based on productivity, quality and other factors by the Harbour Report for three straight years, from 2007 to 2009. The plant’s productivity improved from 13.5 hours per vehicle in 2008 to 12.5 hours in 2009, Baumhower said.
GM’s Powertrain plant in Toledo has been rated the leading transmission plant for the past three years and nine of the past 12, according to Ray Wood, president of UAW Local 14, which represents the workers there.
Chrysler’s engine plant in Dundee, Mich., was rated the top engine plant in the United States in 2009. The former Ford Maumee Stamping plant was a past recipient of the top honor for stamping plants in the United States before it was closed in 2007.
UAW officials said that it’s unprecedented for three plants in the same geographic region to be rated so highly. Chrysler’s Toledo Machining Plant in Perrysburg has ranked among the top two or three in productivity.
Committed to quality
Baumhower said the UAW is committed to keeping its work force among the best in the world to continue competing globally. Through a workers’ initiative, the skilled trades at the Chrysler Wrangler plant in Toledo will be consolidated into two categories of electricians and mechanics representing all classes of utility workers.
The State of Ohio recently approved a grant of up to $1 million for retraining workers at the Chryslers plants in Toledo. The U.S. Department of Labor grant comes from an emergency fund for the automotive industry through the Workforce Investment Act.
The grant will reimburse 50 percent of the cost of retraining skilled trade workers on the job. It will facilitate both the training of existing workers and calling back as many as 70 laid-off workers for the same training, according to Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken.
“We want to be the first assembly plant to have consolidation,” Baumhower said.
Chrysler and the UAW worked with a public and private partnership to obtain the grant. That same partnership is developing a supplier recruitment program to recruit more auto suppliers to Toledo to be closer to the Chrysler assembly plants and take advantage of the skilled work force, Baumhower said.
Lortz also credits the Labor Management Citizens Committee and the Working Council for Employee Involvement for getting labor and management working together to make things happen in this region.
“Northwest Ohio has a culture of labor and management cooperation to grow business and jobs,” said Sandra Simon, executive director of the Northwest Ohio Center for Labor and Management located at UT and funded by a grant from Ohio.
The collaboration of labor and management is not something new in Northwest Ohio, according to Ray Wood, president of UAW Local 14.
Wood said labor and management at the GM Powertrain Plant in Toledo have been working together to create “win-win situations” based on a joint statement of commitment issued in 1983.
“We have partnership meetings on a regular basis to continue improvement of productivity and the relationship between labor and management with a common goal of prosperity for the business and job security for workers,” Wood said.
UAW Local 14 represents about 1,480 members working at the Powertrain Plant. Local 14 had 400 members out of work in 2010 but everyone is back to work and the union has picked up additional workers from other GM plants, according to Wood, who has worked at the plant for 26 years.
UAW helps small firms build business
The United Auto Workers (UAW) is working with numerous smaller companies in Northwest Ohio to help them achieve prosperity and create job security for its members.
Chrysler’s decision to outsource the production of components for its vehicles and focus its attention on assembly at the two Jeep plants in Toledo created opportunities for Tier 1 and Tier 2 automotive suppliers in the area, according to Bruce Baumhower, president of the UAW Local 12.
“We’re trying to find every competitive advantage in the most competitive industry in the world,” Baumhower said. “We want to bring more suppliers to Toledo to be closer to the assembly plants and eliminate a lot of the transportation costs.”
Baumhower said the UAW is putting more people to work at existing smaller companies in the area that are producing components for the vehicles made at the local Jeep assembly plants. Many of those components were originally made by workers in the Jeep plants, he said.
Toledo Molding & Die. (TMD) is a Tier 1 and Tier 2 supplier to the automotive industry that has taken advantage of the opportunity to produce components for Chrysler. The local family-owned business operates facilities in Toledo, Tiffin, Delphos and Bowling Green, which manufacture various components.
“We put the investment into the business but it doesn’t work without the work force making quality products and always looking forward,” said Don Harbaugh, president and CEO of TMD.
The firm’s Toledo plant produces instrument panels for Jeep Wrangler models in a portion of the former DeVilbiss Company plant on Phillips Avenue. The glove boxes for those panels, along with door panels and center console units for the Wrangler, are made at TMD’s plant in Tiffin.
Mark Harbaugh, plant manager at TMD, said the workers build the panels in the actual sequence they get installed in vehicles within three to four hours in what is known as “just-in-time” delivery in the automotive industry.
Harbaugh said the location of that plant is critical to meeting the schedule of delivering 16 truckloads of panels to the nearby Chrysler assembly plant on a daily basis. The plant employs 100 UAW workers and 15 salaried management employees.
“Making interior components for the automotive industry was a very new business for Toledo Molding & Die. They have a much higher set of quality requirements,” Harbaugh said.
He said TMD was fortunate to find UAW members with applicable manufacturing experience so the training curve is much smaller. The Toledo plant became a union shop shortly after it opened in 2006 as they were negotiating a contract with the UAW at that time.
Harbaugh works closely with Rich Crayon, president of the UAW Local 12 unit at the plant, to make sure labor and management are working together for mutual success.
“The biggest key to success is mutual respect. We don’t believe in an authoritative environment and we know we have to work together to be successful,” Harbaugh said. “We may not always agree on everything but our objective is to provide quality products and maintain job security for all our employees.”
Mark’s grandfather, Melvin Harbaugh, became involved with an original pattern and mold shop in 1955. The family purchased the business in 1989. His father, also named Melvin, recently retired, leaving Don and Mark to operate the business.
A plant in Northwood operated by Johnson Controls Inc. makes instrument panels and seats for the Liberty and Nitro models. Chrysler wanted to shift the seat business from that plant to India.
A worker initiative to cut costs, rebalance the production lines, and make other improvements suggested by employees to save their jobs proved that they were most cost-effective, said Wayne Truitt, UAW chairman for the unit at the plant.
With the additional business, the company called 60 people back from layoffs and hired another 60 workers from a plant in Michigan. The plant now employees 240 people, Truitt said.
When the economy became too dependent on manufacturing, Baumhower said it needed to blend manufacturing with new technologies to work in concert with the new economy. An example of that diversification happened at a plant operated by Kern Liebers USA Inc. in Holland. With the consolidation of the auto industry, the plant was down to 25 workers.
Due to the collaborative efforts of the German-owned company and UAW, some of the auto work was recovered and it ventured into other industries, reported Mike Boles, chairman for that UAW unit.
The company is now making copper ribbons for thin-film solar panels made by First Solar and Xunlight in the Toledo area. It’s also producing springs for air bags and seat belts in vehicles and springs used to dispense products in vending machines.
“It was a great way to go so we don’t depend entirely on the auto industry,” Boles said.
The company has doubled its work force and has a goal of going to three shifts in the next six to 10 months. UAW members voted to ratify a new 3.5-year contract with Kern-Liebers in February, Boles reported.
Baumhower said there are numerous other success stories of collaboration between the UAW and local companies to grow or retain business and jobs in the region.