Disgruntled Autoworker
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Collateral Damage

          About two years before the GM Baltimore assembly plant shut down, 05.13.05, and three years after I began writing the Disgruntled Autoworker and Observations Newsletters, 01.07.00, a few coworkers began to notice a trend in the quality of the paint applied to the Chevy Astro and GMC Safari Mini Vans we produced. Under normal conditions, defects in the paint were sporadic. For instance a van would have a mar in the paint, which is an off color streak or splotch that requires light sanding before being repainted. Or a van would have craters or mapping, the squiggly lines like those found on topical maps, both of which require power sanding to eliminate the defects prior to repainting the defected area. Sometimes the defects were in one location like a hood or door, and every once in a while an entire van was affected, in which case the entire van needed light sanding, or power sanding, depending on the severity of the defects.

          On a good day we would sand and repaint a dozen or so vans. On a bad day, out of a hundred vans painted, we’d have to sand and repaint about ten. On a really bad day, which seemed to happen about once a month and last for days, almost every one had to be power sanded, sometimes two or three times because it would come back looking worse than it originally had. Power sanding was labor intensive. We’d have to sand them down to the primer coat, which took hours, and the process kicked up a lot of dust that covered us from head to toe. It was during a busy day when Jose observed, “I don’t know, call me paranoid, but it seems every time Doug puts out a newsletter, we have major quality problems.” Rob, quick with his response said, “No! You think?” I said, “Come on. You don’t think GM or UAW Reps would deliberately sacrifice quality to retaliate against me, do you?” We looked at each other with that all knowing look and dropped the subject.

          A month or two later, I put out DA # 14, which can be found on my disgruntledautoworker.com website. It was critical of the GM/UAW Jointness Partnership, or The Team, and Jose observed, “Oh, oh, Doug put out another newsletter, expect quality to take a nose dive.” Like clockwork, quality took a nose dive. For the next three days to a week after I circulated the newsletter, we would work breaks, lunch and stay an extra two hours to repair the craters or mapping defects that covered the majority of the vans. There were so many repairs the Paint Shop looked like I-95 during rush hour. I said to my coworkers, “Sorry about that.” Rob said, “Don’t worry about it. We can’t expect an easy day every day.” And that’s when Jose said, “Yeah, you just keep putting out the newsletters to expose the bastards. If we’re collateral damage because of free speech, it’s worth it.”

          That was the vote of confidence that kept us going for the remaining months prior to the plant’s closing. I’d put out a newsletter and for the next few days everyone in the Paint Shop would suffer the consequences by having to work a little harder. The collateral damage remark was used frequently during those months. This may sound far fetched or border on paranoia, and The Team will deny any such shenanigans and label my allegations preposterous, but our experiences and my newsletters chronicling those experiences during the plant’s last years reaffirmed our belief that The Team can be relentless and ruthless, and they will not hesitate to sacrifice quality, people or cost when it comes to retaliation, be it against one or a few. And if you think about it, my coworkers weren’t the only victims of collateral damage, so was customer enthusiasm, one of the corporation’s many slogans, oh well, scratch that one.  

          When the plant shut down and one hundred and fifty of us were forced to Wilmington fifteen months later, we didn’t expect things to be any different. Right from Jump Street, Wilmington’s Mgt told us our records have been wiped clean. The local’s Committeeman At Large/Zoneman told us they welcome us as one of their own. Less than sixty days later, Mgt put me on the street for my first newsletter in the plant, DA # 35, that I believe is as true now as it was then. I also believe the reprimand was retaliation for my previous newsletters, the website, and for being too graphic in my descriptions and use of the terms Gobs and Yum yums. What happened to wiping our records clean? Shortly thereafter the local union put out a newsletter debunking my use of the term Gypsy to describe transplants in that same newsletter. They played the term up to be derogatory in nature. Quite the contrary, most of us are proud to call ourselves Gypsies, because transferring from plant to plant, ergo local to local, has given us the opportunity to witness the UAW’s transformation from a once strong and proud union to a weak and pathetic one. What happened to welcoming us as one of their own? Although Gypsy’s aren’t proud of the current state of the union, we’re optimistic about its future, because elections are around the corner.

          Also prevalent right from Jump Street, I believe Wilmington’s GM/UAW Team is pitting older workers against younger, Gypsies against natives, forced Gypsies against volunteers, and injured against injured. A fellow Gypsy recently said, “I wouldn’t mind busting my butt if everyone else did.” But that’s not the case. Nepotism and favoritism are as evident in Wilmington as they were in our previous plants. Older workers and the majority of the Gypsies are working their butts off while The Team’s Yum yums, most of whom are younger, or who have no seniority, get all the easier jobs. And to make matters worse, several of the Yum yums openly brag and exploit their good fortune by making loud noises or strutting around like proud peacocks, all of which is part of The Team’s master plan to keep us divided and at each others throats, mission accomplished.

          And then there’s the collateral damage several innocents have to endure because a select few have the courage to stand and openly challenge The Team’s status quo. We believe our jobs are so deliberately overworked that we’re forced to hit the ground running from buzzer to buzzer, and it is those who have the misfortune of working with us, or on opposing shifts who are also overworked, and therefore collateral damage. Meanwhile, members of The Team act oblivious or ignorant to our situations.  

          Another example of collateral damage is my job; it and another opposite mine are so overworked they cause a bottleneck that threatens production. There were a total of eight operations in my area. Two were extremely overworked, two so so, and the other four were extremely under worked. According to coordinators, Mgt’s Poindexter was informed that the two overworked jobs are creating a bottleneck because the operators can’t keep up. He observed that the four under worked operators are sitting around and chewing the fat while they wait for the over worked operators to catch up. You’d think Poindexter would have some work removed from the overworked jobs and evenly distribute it to eliminate the bottleneck, but nooo. Instead, and in typical GM fashion, which I believe explains why the corporation is in the shape it’s in, Poindexter decides to have the chairs removed so the under worked operators are no longer sitting around and chewing the fat, now their standing around and chewing the fat as the bottleneck threatens to stop production. Look out CEO Rick Wagoner; I believe Poindexter’s coming for your job.

          Thanks in part to a grievance, a part, not enough to matter, was taken from the two overworked jobs and put on the two so so jobs, now four operators are overworked. An operator and work was removed from the four under worked jobs, now just three operators are standing around and chewing the fat while they wait for the overworked operators to catch up. Another grievance was filed, but like the original one that got a part moved, it too will take months to settle. In the meantime, the bottleneck threatens production.

          I called the Committeeman At Large and explained that I believe our area is deliberately out of sync with the rest of the plant. We are forced to come in an hour, sometimes two hours early on Sunday nights, and we have to stay over a half hour every Thursday just to lessen the ever present bottleneck threat. He said, “Do you think GM would waste money on retaliation?” I told him about the Chosen Ones who are coming in four hours early or staying four hours over everyday for months on end and not doing anything, and Mgt knows it. He said, “More power to them if they can get away with it.” I said, “I agree, but my point is, I believe GM would waste money on retaliation.” He said, “You’re entitled to your beliefs.” Duh.

          Meanwhile, eleven coworkers, three on my shift and four on the other two are overworked. Then there are those in repair, on all three shifts, who are adversely affected by the quality of our work, and therefore collateral damage as well because The Teams retaliating against me for exercising my free speech rights. I wonder if The Team knows or cares how unpatriotic and un-American they are.

In Solidarity, Doug Hanscom






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