Archive for the ‘toledo jeep assembly plant’ Tag

Toledo’s tribute to vets, Jeeps

On Memorial Day, Jeep’s Toledo Assembly Complex (TAC) unveiled its own tribute to veterans. Vice President of Assembly Operations Zach Leroux, Toledo Plant Manager Chuck Padden, UAW Local 12 Chairman Mark Epley, employees, and five veterans with ties to the plants, including three retirees who served in World War II, dedicated a permanent veteran’s memorial in the shadow of the giant Jeep® sign at the intersection of I-75 and I-280.


Incorporating a restored 1942 Willys Military Jeep, the memorial recognizes  the service of those in uniform and the city’s nearly 75-year history of building Jeep vehicles. Mr. Padden said, “Like all Americans, we owe our freedom to the sacrifices made by the men and women who serve in the military, but at Jeep, we owe our very existence to our WWII veterans. When they returned home from the war, they purchased civilian versions of the Jeep vehicles they learned to depend upon in the war.  These heroes became our first Jeep enthusiasts.  Without them, we would not be here today. … Some of the people who currently work in this plant and some who helped refurbish this 1942 Jeep are descendants of those who possibly built this very vehicle.”

Plant management and the local UAW leadership agreed that the best way to honor veterans and the plant’s Jeep history was to find a military Jeep to restore and put on permanent display. With the help of former Toledo plant manager Jerry Huber and a Craig’s List ad, the 1942 Willys was found in Wimberley, Texas. When the owner heard that the Jeep plant in Toledo wanted the vehicle to put on display, he immediately pulled the ad, sold it to the plant for $950, and volunteered to transport the non-running vehicle to Toledo in exchange for a tour.

The Willys returned home on May 9, and restoration work began on May 12. A team of about 15 Toledo employees worked for a week and a half, replacing parts, refurbishing body panels, and painting. Because all of the vehicle identification plates and hood graphics had been removed, its exact history can’t be determined, but it was probably built in mid-1942.

The memorial also includes silhouettes of soldiers, created by volunteers from the plant. An assembly employee drew up the soldier outlines and body shop employees cut out the figures, ground the edges, and finished them.

Mr. Epley said, “With nearly 10 percent of our workforce with military experience, plus all of our team members with family members having served or still serving, this memorial is very personal for all of us.”

The number of Toledo employees with a military background has grown by 25% with the launch of the Jeep Cherokee and the recent hiring.

Toledo veterans

Twins Lewis and Leroy Woggon, 87, were hired by the Jeep plant in 1943. Three months later, they were drafted into the Army, and eventually served as combat engineers for three years, returning to work at the Jeep plant after they were discharged. Leroy retired in 1989 after 45 years with Jeep, but brother Lewis stayed on five more years, retiring in 1994. Leroy’s son Gary has been working at Jeep since 1983; Lewis’s son and grandson both retired from the Jeep plant.

John Smith served in the Army Infantry from 1945-1946. He was hired by Jeep in 1947 and spent the next 40 years building Jeep vehicles before retiring in 1985.

Ron Szymanski retired from the Jeep plant in 1998 following 35 years working in body, paint, and assembly, and acting as the Jeep museum curator. Szymanski served in the Army National Guard from 1950-1955, then went to Officer Candidate School, and was honorably discharged in 1960 as a first Lieutenant Army Reserve Officer.

Lupe Flores, the 90-year-old cousin of Jeep retiree Hector Flores who serves on the Jeep Veterans Committee, served with the Army 101st Airborne from 1943-1946. He was involved in the D-Day Invasion in Normandy, and took part in two combat jumps during his time with the Army.

Jeep in Toledo

In 1940, officers in the United States Army, realizing the need for a new type of fast, lightweight, all-terrain reconnaissance vehicle, put out bids for a design. They selected Toledo-based Willys-Overland’s design (based heavily on American Bantam’s original prototypes), and production began in late 1941; 363,000 were built in Toledo through the end of the war in 1945. Officially known as the Willys MA (followed by a revision called the MB), the name “Jeep” is a source of some debate; the term was apparently Army slang as far back as World War I.

The Jeep was an all-purpose vehicle and served in every theater of the war. It was used as a staff car, pickup truck, ambulance, reconnaissance vehicle, machine gun mount, ammunition bearer and a troop carrier.

After the war, Willys-Overland introduced a version for the general public, adding refined features such as windshield wipers, a tailgate and an outside gas cap. It was called the CJ-2A, with the “CJ” standing for “Civilian Jeep.”  Other Jeep models followed, such as the Wagoneer, a pioneering sport-utility vehicle introduced in 1963. They were also built in Toledo. Jeep’s ownership changed hands several times, with  Chrysler acquiring the brand as part of AMC in 1987.

The Toledo Assembly Complex builds the Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, and the Jeep Cherokee, with nearly 4,200 employees.

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Jeep will hire up to 1,000 for part-time work

Chrysler Group LLC plans to hire up to 1,000 part-time employees for the Toledo Assembly complex to keep production rolling while giving regular employees the chance for a break.

“Our people have been working a tremendous amount of hours,” Plant Manager Chuck Padden said. “To get them more time off is important to us, to make sure they’re refreshed, and can work safely.”

With record demand for the Jeep Wrangler and the launch of the new Jeep Cherokee last year, employees are regularly working 60 hours a week. And while employees generally like the extra pay that results from working overtime, such lengthy stretches can wear on workers, he said.

A company spokesman said Monday that Chrysler has hired 380 temporary part-time employees this year, though 50 have been converted to regular, full-time employees.

Chrysler has collected applications for the jobs and is not currently accepting any more. Officials are in the process of conducting assessment testing and expect more employees to be brought on in the coming weeks.

Most of the new hires will get between 10 and 30 hours per week.

“It can vary, depending upon on the teams they’re on. Typically it’s a Friday-Saturday-Monday situation,” Mr. Padden said. “So if we’re scheduled for six days, TPT [temporary part-time] could be here three of them. Some of them might only work one day a week.”

The TPT employees are paid $15.78 an hour, the same rate as new full-time hires. They’re also offered limited benefits, including health insurance.

How long the new temporary part-time jobs last depends mostly on demand for the two vehicles built there.

While it isn’t unusual for automakers to use part-time help to ease the burden at busy plants, it’s not typically done to this level. Officials from the company and the union both said it’s an innovative solution that will boost production, allow weary workers more time off, and bring new employees into the plant.

Bruce Baumhower, president of United Auto Workers Local 12, said the help should take some of the load off employees who have worked long hours for a long time.

“They’ve worked through the Christmas shutdown the last couple years; they’ve worked through summer shutdowns. Summertime’s coming; they’ve got kids in Little League and other things,” he said. “They’ve done an unbelievable job of carrying the load.”

Mark Epley, UAW Local 12’s Jeep Unit Chairman and one of the key people in brokering the deal, said it’s important to get employees a little time off.

“You’ve gotta remember, these people are working 10 hours a day, six days a week,” he said.

The contract currently gives employees the right to take off a Saturday after working consecutive Saturdays. With the addition of part-time workers, employees will be able to take off other days as well.

“It’s very important to have the day off you want with your family,” he said.

The added help will allow the plant to run the Wrangler line every Saturday, which they haven’t been able to do. That’s important to Chrysler, which is trying to squeeze even more Wrangler production out of the plant this year after a record year in 2013.

That task falls on Mr. Padden, who took over as plant manager on Jan. 1.

Mr. Padden, 54, has been with Chrysler since 1995 and is on his third tour in Toledo. He most recently served as the launch manager for the Cherokee, then took over the top position in the plant following former plant manager Zach Leroux’s promotion to head of assembly operations for Chrysler.

“We’ve got a lot of good things going for us right now,” Mr. Padden said. “As the volume is picking up we’ll be one of the largest manufacturing sites in North America. We won’t talk specifics on the numbers, but we’ll be one of the largest manufacturing sites in North America with the two [lines] going at full tilt.”

Mr. Padden said Chrysler’s goal for the plant is to build 2,000 vehicles a day. Currently, employees at the Toledo Assembly complex build about 840 Wranglers and 990 Cherokees a day. Mr. Padden said the Cherokee line should reach full capacity in the year’s third quarter.

Right now the focus for Cherokee is on fine-tuning the build process and ramping up work on building international models. Jeep officials have said they plan to eventually sell the Cherokee in 150 countries.

“Every country has its own unique specifications they want to see. Everything from the way VIN stamps are put into a car to the way to the dashboard reads and the way the radio reads,” Mr. Padden said.

Chrysler expects about 15 percent of Cherokees built in Toledo to be destined for international markets.

Mr. Padden praised the work force in Toledo and its good working relationship with the company. He also understands Jeep’s importance to the city.

“It’s not just another company out there. We’re so integrated into the community of Toledo,” he said. “We recognize the interdependence of Jeep to Toledo. Continuing to work together, we hope to be here for a long, long time.”