* Chrysler-affiliated workers give UAW strike authority
* Rotating work schedule major issue in plant pact talks
* Workers in "state of zombieness' -- UAW local official
By Meghana Keshavan and Bernie Woodall
DETROIT, Sept 19 As Chrysler Group LLC nears a
four-year contract with the United Auto Workers union, workers
at a Chrysler engine plant have threatened a local strike and
say production schedules threaten quality and safety.
Punishing and routine schedule changes that have workers
pulling a day shift one week and an evening shift the next have
upset many of the more than 400 hourly employees at the Dundee,
Michigan, plant owned and run by Chrysler's Global Engine
Manufacturing Alliance, or GEMA.
Workers at a second Chrysler engine plant in Trenton,
Michigan have also pushed union officials involved in the
national contract talks with Chrysler to take up the issue of
their work schedules in national contract talks expected to
wrap up this week.
Workers at the Dundee and Trenton plants say that Chrysler
has the workers on a rotating shift schedule that calls for
them to move between days and nights in order to limit costly
"Workers have their rhythm thrown out of balance," said Tom
Zimmerman, chairman of UAW Local 723 which represents the
Dundee engine plant workers. "People come to work in a
perpetual state of zombieness."
Both plants are key to the restoration of Chrysler.
Workers, divided into three teams at Dundee and Trenton,
work four 10-hour shifts per week. The shifts allow Chrysler to
get 120 hours of production without paying overtime. In a
traditional three-shift schedule, overtime would begin after
100 hours of production.
'JUMPING, JUMPING, JUMPING'
Gabe Solano, president of UAW Local 372, which represents
about 460 workers at Chrysler's Trenton engine plant, said the
schedules have strained worker health to the breaking point.
"A lot of people in there have diabetes, high blood
pressure issues, let alone the life issues of child care,"
Solano said. "Every week people are jumping, jumping, jumping.
We've been doing this rotation for a year now."
Demand for the engines made at the two plants is high, and
the shifts help meet that demand, Chrysler spokeswoman Jodi
Tinson said. The contract between GEMA and the UAW calls for
rotating shifts, she said.
GEMA operates only the Dundee plant. GEMA did not go into
bankruptcy in 2009 as Chrysler did and its UAW-represented
workers are able to strike. Chrysler's 23,150 UAW-represented
workers are prohibited from striking over national contract
issues under the terms of the automaker's 2009 bailout by the
The rotating schedule was set up when the Dundee plant
opened in 2005 run by GEMA, then a joint venture between
Chrysler's owner at the time, Daimler AG (DAIGn.DE), Hyundai
Motor Co (005380.KS) and Mitsubishi Motors Corp (7211.T).
Hyundai and Mitsubishi have left the joint venture, leaving
GEMA as a wholly owned subsidiary of Chrysler Group, which is
majority owned by Italy's Fiat SpA FIA.MI. The current six
year contract for the Dundee plant expires on Oct. 14.
Zimmerman said he had negotiated an easing of the rotating
shift schedules after Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy, but the
company reinstated the rotations in late 2010.
Solano said some workers at the Dundee plant had requested
transfers out of the plant to try to get some regularity to
their work and sleep schedules.
"I'm afraid that we're going to find out that somebody did
do something bad on a freeway in the middle of the night
driving home, and potentially killing themselves or maiming
themselves," he said. "That's the worst case scenario."
He added: "We just want our lives back as far as having
normal shifts. And that's the overriding problem."
The UAW reached a new four-year contract with GM last week
that will go to GM workers for ratification this week.
Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is scheduled to return to
Detroit on Tuesday to restart negotiations with the union that
broke off last week.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)