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Kenosha Chrysler plant eases closer to new production line

By THOMAS CONTENT
tcontent@journalsentinel.com
Posted: April 10, 2006

United Auto Workers Local 72 and DaimlerChrysler AG's Kenosha engine plant have reached an agreement designed to help the plant receive an additional engine production line, company and union officials said Monday.

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The union and local plant management "reached a framework agreement in support of finalizing a business case for production of a future engine program," said Dan Kirk, Local 72 president.

Kirk and company spokesman Ed Saenz said it was premature to speculate about whether or when the new engine production line would come to Kenosha.

The Kenosha engine plant employs 1,300 people.

"We've got agreement with the union as to what we think should be going on there in the future, but before we were to move any product in there, we'd also need to talk with the government and see if they are supportive of the new investment," Saenz said. "We're far from anything happening there."

Tony Hozeny, spokesman for the state Department of Commerce, said the agency is in "continuing contact" with the company but has not yet discussed the possible new production line with DaimlerChrysler.

"We'll certainly be willing to have a discussion with them," he said. "We certainly stand ready to help."

Todd Battle, president of the Kenosha Area Business Alliance, the economic development organization in Kenosha County, declined comment.

Meetings are taking place this week between the company and International Association of Machinists Lodge 34 to discuss a deal similar to the UAW agreement, said Donald Griffin, business representative with the machinists union. Griffin said his union employs about 65 plant workers.

The new line wouldn't add jobs to the plant, but could restore the jobs of some who may be laid off this year when one of the three engines made in Kenosha is phased out, Griffin said.

Production will end in May of a 4.0-liter engine for the Jeep Wrangler, Saenz said. The Wrangler has been redesigned, and the new Wrangler engines will be made at Chrysler's engine plant in Trenton, Mich., he said.

Saenz said it's premature to speculate on how many jobs may be lost as a result of the end of production of the Wrangler engine. Some workers may transfer to other production lines, while layoffs may also be necessary, he said.

Other than the Wrangler engine, the Kenosha plant also makes a 3.5-liter engine, used on the Chrysler Pacifica and 300 and Dodge Magnum and Charger models, as well as a 2.7-liter engine used on the 300, Stratus, Charter, Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Magnum models.

Saenz said Chrysler is pleased with the approval it received from the union, and noted the Kenosha plant has a history of close collaboration.

Last fall, the plant was awarded the Melvin Lurie Labor-Management Cooperation Prize from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. That collaboration includes a decision to have UAW members rather than outside contractors, install the last new engine production line in Kenosha in 2002. That move saved the company nearly $10 million.

The opening of the 3.5-liter engine line, in 2002, came after the company invested $624 million in a 450,000-square-foot expansion of the plant. The Kenosha plant was built in 1917 and was bought by Chrysler in August 1987 when it acquired American Motors. Vehicle production in Kenosha stopped in 1988.


From the April 11, 2006 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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