Fired for speaking out, Chrysler worker gets warm welcome back

The mood at the Chrysler stamping plant in Warren, Mich., is generally dour these days. Most workers are unhappy about recently imposed, mandatory 10-hour shifts and Saturday work without overtime pay.

They are noticeably tired, especially those on the “C crew,” who work two days on evening shift (4 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.) and two days on day shift (5:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.). On March 11, the company imposed this schedule on most of the workers — unfortunately with the acquiescence of the International leadership of the United Auto Workers.

The frowns turned to smiles, however, when workers learned that their fired co-worker, Alex Wassell, would be reinstated. Wassell was suspended on March 1 and the suspension was later converted to a discharge after he helped organize and lead a protest against the oppressive schedules. Management claimed he violated Code of Conduct 22: “engaging in, participating in, aiding or approving conduct constituting or appearing to constitute a conflict with the interest of the Company.”

This charge was based on statements allegedly made to the Detroit News suggesting that the schedules would hurt morale, which might affect quality. When the News first covered the firing, Chrysler spokeswoman Jodi Tinson claimed that Wassell had leaked quality documents from the Warren Truck Assembly Plant, which is next door to the Warren Stamping Plant. Later retracting this blatantly false statement, Tinson made a second false claim, saying that Wassell had made statements about production problems at the assembly plant. Subsequently, the company stated only that Wassell had violated Code of Conduct 22.

Not only at Warren Stamping, but at other Chrysler plants and at Ford and General Motors, workers were outraged over the firing.

At WSP over $4,000 was collected to help Wassell with living expenses and, if necessary, the costs of legal action. Workers who had never met him helped with the fund drive and gave generously. “He fought for us,” was how one worker explained the strong feelings of solidarity.

UAW Local 869 grieved the discharge and on April 17 the company gave Wassell his job back. He returned to work on the hated C Crew schedule, where his co-workers gave him a warm welcome.

Wassell is still fighting for back pay, having lost almost seven weeks’ wages. Chrysler workers will be angry if the company refuses to make him whole. “Everybody at Jeep says that Alex should get his damn back pay,” a Toledo worker told this writer. “Right now!”

Martha Grevatt is a 25-year Chrysler worker and a member of UAW Local 869.