Jeep workers rally in support of proposed land purchaseWritten by Danielle Stanton | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In a red sea of solidarity, about 100 members of UAW Local 12 came out to City Council Nov. 25 wearing red T-shirts to support a city deal that intends to keep Jeep Wrangler production in Toledo.
Carrying signs outside One Government Center, the group chanted slogans like, “Jeep leaving Toledo? / Hell no, Sergio / That’s absurd / Keep your word” and “City Council understand / Now’s the time to buy that land” outside the building. Later, they moved inside, filling Council chambers to hear an agenda review session that included discussion of a proposed land purchase near the Jeep plant.
The city wants to purchase the former Textileather site, located on 28.8 acres near Chrysler’s Stickney Avenue production plant, for $738,000. The deal — pending Council approval — could be cinched by summer 2015, said Matt Sapara, the city’s director of business and economic development.
Council plans to vote on the proposal at its regular meeting Dec. 2.
Wrangler will be moving to an aluminum body, UAW Local 12 President Bruce Baumhower confirmed at the meeting. Toledo’s plant is set up for steel body production. Shutting the plant down to retool it for aluminum body production instead of steel would be too costly, as the plant already can’t keep up with demand even working around the clock with the highest production output in the world, he said. And there’s currently no space to expand the plant either.
Acquisition of the property doesn’t guarantee Chrysler will keep Wrangler production in Toledo, but without it Toledo is virtually guaranteed to lose Wrangler, Baumhower said.
“We want [City Council] to realize we have a real battle in trying to convince Chrysler to keep Wrangler here,” he said. “We haven’t been able to keep up with the demand for Wranglers for the last two to three years, even though we’re building 240,000 a year, working seven days a week, 20 to 24 hours a day. We need to expand the facility at the very least. Or build a new facility that could do the aluminum process. Both those scenarios are impossible without this extra land.”
Acquiring the property is “critical” to keeping Jeep jobs in Toledo, Sapara agreed. Other sites Chrysler would consider for Wrangler production, such as Sterling Heights, Michigan, or Belvidere, Illinois, have more land available, offering Chrysler more options and flexibility, he said.
“One of the things we suffer from here in the community is we just don’t have that inventory that other communities — our competition — has,” Sapara said. “One of our goals is to develop that inventory so when people do come into town they have it.”
The Textileather site along with the former Medcorp property plus a few other smaller parcels would bring the city’s total acreage in the area to 70, Sapara said. Toledo’s two current plants comprise about 244 acres.
During remarks to Council, Baumhower praised the Toledo workforce, many of whom worked through Christmas shut-downs in 2012 and 2013 to keep up with Wrangler production. Chrysler had so many orders for Wranglers in 2014, they had to ask 40,000 customers to order a 2015 model instead, he said. Just in the month of October, they built 50,000 vehicles, he said. The Jeep complex has 6,028 employees.
“This whole problem we’re facing has been caused by their phenomenal success,” he said. “They can’t shut that plant down for one minute. They’re 40,000 short of meeting demand as it is.
“If they shut Wrangler down for six month [like Ford did in Dearborn when it retooled its plant from making steel-body F150 pickups to aluminum bodies], he loses $1.5 billion. So [Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne] says, ‘I have no choice’ — and I agree with him. He has no choice but to take Wrangler somewhere else.
“Now what we’re saying is, ‘Let’s give him something to think about,’” he said.
“Yes, there’s some risk in saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to buy this land and we don’t have a commitment from Chrysler.’ But you’ve got to weight that against if we don’t do this, it’s game over. It’s gone.
“Sure, [Marchionne] has other products (he can give us),” he said. “[But] we’ll lose thousands of jobs if we don’t keep Wrangler.
“There’s nothing he can bring in that will give us the same stability. We built Dodge Nitro. Remember that? Four years. It’s gone. we built Dodge Dakota for three years. It’s gone. We built Jeep Liberty for 10 years. It’s gone. Cars have product cycles. This car has a cycle of 75 years.”
Baumhower also pointed to Chrysler’s ambitious five-year plan of expanding the market for Wranglers globally.
“He’s not going to build the Wrangler anywhere but one this one site — hopefully Toledo — and he’s going to ship it globally,” Baumhower said. “Do we want to play in that sandbox that we built? That’s gonna get a whole lot bigger? Hell yes we do. That’s the one we want to build.”
If the deal is approved, the city would be responsible for environmental remediation of the site, estimated to cost $1.2 million, Sapara said. The site’s current owner Canadian General Tower will provide $1.75 to cover the job. Any extra would go back into the site. As of this year, Canadian razed the site, leaving “no scraps of metal on the ground,” he said.
PCP had been found in the soil and the Ohio and U.S. Environmental Protection agencies (EPA) are both involved, he said. The city would be responsible for making sure all contaminates had been purged.
Councilwoman Lindsay Webb, wearing a red blazer to show support, told the group she plans to vote for the purchase. The property is in Webb’s district.
“It is our history, it is our legacy, it is our truth,” Webb said of the auto industry.
“The city must and certainly should do what’s required to begin the process,” she said to applause. “There’s nothing more serious or more pressing before this Council than this particular development opportunity. Without question it’s going to impact generations beyond me.”
Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins was visiting his children and grandchildren but sent a letter that was read to Council. In it, he said the community is in “desperate” need of this new “opportunity” that will provide Chrysler with an option of expanding its capacity in Toledo, which will make the city more competitive.
“We can bring new meaning to ‘It matters where you make it,’” wrote the Mayor, referring to the city’s new slogan.
Sapara said Chrysler is aware the city is looking to acquire the property, but company leadership hasn’t yet met with the city to discuss. He said he hopes to set up a meeting before the end of the year.
Two buses shipped in UAW members for the agenda review session, many who came before their shift, extending their work day to 14 hours, Baumhower said.
Some were retirees, like Gloria Bunker, who came out to support family and friends.
“I have a lot of family members and friends and they would be devastated if Jeep were to leave,” she said outside Council chambers, wearing her red T-Shirt.
Bunker is neighbors with UAW member David Boles, who is chairman of parts supplier GT Technologies.
“I hope the city will purchase the property so they can expand the Jeep plant to bring more jobs to the Toledo area,” Boles said.
Production operator Jody Miller of Toledo, a third generation Jeep worker, was also at the rally. Her late grandfather, father and sister all worked for Jeep.
“I grew up in the Jeep life,” Miller said. “This legacy has provided so much for my family … and it’s important to continue not only the tradition but the job security that keeping the Wrangler plant in Toledo will offer.”
Also at the rally was James Fayson, a 14-year Jeep employee who gained exposure in 2012 as “James the Jeep Worker,” appearing in a video for President Obama’s re-election campaign.
“This has been my livelihood for the better part of 15 years and if Sergio decides to take this from Toledo then it would be a crippling effect for not only myself, but families I work with every day,” Fayson said. “We went through this similar situation during the recession when we thought we might be out of work. But now it’s on a different level.”
Hector Flores of East Toledo, who retired from Jeep after 33 years, said it wouldn’t only be Jeep workers who would be affected if Wrangler left. Parts suppliers would be affected, and Toledo’s economy in general, he said.
“I’m here to support Jeep, to support the community and to support the town. It’s not just Jeep. It’s everybody,” he said.
Frank Rao of Toledo, who works in the stock department on the Cherokee line, came out to support his co-workers on the Wrangler line.
“I think it’s important we all stick together as one voice,” Rao said. “Cherokee and Wrangler, we’re all one big family. It would be a hit to everyone if we lost the Wrangler.”
Toledo Free Press Editor in Chief Sarah Ottney contributed to this report.