'Keep the Fleet,' Toledo UAW drivers urge outside auto show

The Detroit News

Detroit – Johnny Cleveland was willing to come to Detroit for a protest rally –- and to see the auto show –- but he doesn't want to work here.

About 300  UAW members and their supporters rallied Sunday on Jefferson Avenue outside Cobo Center, in the shadow of the North American International Auto Show, to protest the layoffs and what they mean for the collective bargaining process.


Cleveland, 57, said Sunday that he was one of 16 fleet drivers laid off from "The Fleet," a group of 88 Toledo-based truck drivers who have lost or will lose their jobs delivering parts to Chrysler assembly plants. Cleveland said he was laid off on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, after about seven years with the company.

Cleveland and about 300 other UAW members and their supporters rallied on Jefferson Avenue outside Cobo Center, in the shadow of the North American International Auto Show, to protest the layoffs and what they mean for the collective bargaining process.

"The company has decided to send that work out to a non-union company, without bargaining it with us," said Bruce Baumhower, president of UAW Local 12, which represents the fleet. "We've had two meetings with the company on this. They were not willing to bargain it, not willing to discuss it."

"I'm a truck driver, and I want to be driving trucks," Cleveland said. "They came to us and said it was either this or nothing, so I volunteered to take the layoff. So here I am waiting."

Jodi Tinson, of FCA Communications and  Manufacturing and Labor, on Sunday issued a statement about the protest.

"FCA US respects the rights of Local 12 to rally in support of their members, but maintains our position that we have been discussing the Toledo Terminal wind down with UAW leadership for over two years," the statement said.

" As has been previously communicated, it is the intention of FCA US to find employment opportunities for all impacted Toledo FCA Transport employee. There will be no loss of jobs with this action," the statement said. "The Toledo Assembly Complex continues to add hundreds of new jobs to support Wrangler production and future production of the all-new Jeep truck."

Local 12 filled up six buses with more than 300 people, Baumhower said. Another 100 drove themselves to Detroit from Toledo. And UAW members at other facilities joined the protest.

The uncertainty wears on laid-off workers, Cleveland said.

"Am I going back to work or not? I didn't sign on to be laid off, I signed on to work. I'm a worker. Put me back to work. Toss me the keys to the truck, send me back on the road like I do every night," Cleveland said. "I don't want to drive to Detroit go to to work. I live in Toledo, I work in Toledo, and I want to keep my job in Toledo."

Jason DeAmicis, a dispatcher for the fleet in Toledo for almost eight years, shares in that uncertainty, even though he hasn't been laid off yet. He's been with Chrysler for 10 years.

"I still have a job, but I don't know when I'm going to be laid off," DeAmicis said, while carrying a white "Keep The Fleet" sign, one of dozens of ralliers Sunday to do so. "There's a lot of uncertainty. This affects our families. This affects us."

The fleet, DeAmicis explained, transports parts from contractors to factories on a "just in time" basis. "We haul transmissions from Kokomo, Indiana, engines from Trenton, body panels from various parts of Detroit. We used to service Warren Truck and the Jefferson Assembly Plant. We service a lot of plants, and it's slowly been reduced down to Toledo."

DeAmicis cited the hard tops on the new Jeep Wrangler as a vehicle on display at the auto show that has the fleet's imprint. 

Why did protesters choose the second public day of the auto show to speak out?

"It's a global stage," Baumhower said. "We're not protesting the auto show –- we bought 300 tickets and are headed inside afterwards."

Not only did the weather cooperate Sunday, with temperatures above the freezing point, but other union groups showed their support.

"Local 372, at the Trenton Engine Plant, cancelled its regular membership meeting on Sunday to participate in the rally. Local 51 called and said 'we'll see you down there,'" Baumhower said. "This is only going to get bigger, especially when you destroy the fundamental concept of negotiation, which is bargaining, wages and benefits for your employees." 

"This will escalate," Baumhower said. "This is just one round."