Warren woman honored by Obama speech invite

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A 43-year-old worker at Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly plant wrote a letter to President Barack Obama thanking him for saving her company — and now she’s going to be watching the State of the Union with first lady Michelle Obama.

Tiairris Woodward, 43, of Warren, said in an interview Tuesday that she wrote Obama last week thanking him for rescuing Chrysler and then received a response almost immediately from the White House inviting her to the speech.

“I got the call. I was like, ‘Wow!’ ” Woodward said Tuesday.

The mother of three said after she got a job at Chrysler in June 2010, she made enough money to get her own place.

“It helped me and my family to move out of my sister’s house,” she said. “Frankly, Chrysler has done a lot for me.”

Woodward got a job at the plant in Detroit, where the unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV assembles the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango. She currently works on the finish line to make sure the sport utility vehicles are in perfect shape before heading to dealerships.

“When I see them on the street, I think I might have had something to do with that Jeep or that Durango,” she said.

Fiat Chrysler has about 4,500 workers at the Detroit assembly plant on three shifts — it added the third shift in 2012. The Grand Cherokee is Chrysler’s second-best-selling nameplate behind the Ram pickup. Sales rose 5 percent in 2014 to 183,783, while sales of the Dodge Durango rose 6 percent to 64,398 last year.

The White House said Sunday that Woodward “wasn’t making enough money to support herself and her three children, the youngest of whom has special needs. She started working for Chrysler in 2010 on the assembly line, and after doing both jobs full time, working 17 hours a day, Tiairris was in a position to move solely to Chrysler, a union job that makes her a member of United Auto Workers Local 7. ... After a year on the job, she saved enough to buy a car and rent an new apartment, and through Chrysler’s Tuition Assistance Program, Tiairris is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in business management.”

Fiat Chrysler praised her selection. The company said in a statement it “is honored that one of our employees was selected to represent the more than 75,000 people who have contributed to the Company’s growth and success by working hard to develop award-winning vehicles that meet the needs and expectations of our customers.”

Woodward confessed she would be a little nervous when she goes to the White House Tuesday afternoon for a reception before the speech where she will get to meet the president and first lady.

“This is a great opportunity ... a once in a life time chance,” Woodward said. “I’m nervous now — you don’t just meet them every day.”

The invitation came just two weeks after Obama came to Michigan to tour a Ford Motor Co. assembly plant in Wayne. In December, the Obama administration officially ended its six-year intervention in the U.S. auto industry, when the U.S. Treasury sold its remaining 11.4 percent stake in Ally Financial Inc., the Detroit-based auto lender and bank holding company.