Disgruntled Autoworker
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Observations #21
November 2002

Rubber Stamped Response

On 10.23.02 I received a rubber-stamped response to Disgruntled Autoworkers Observations # 9, the letter about our benefits that I emailed nationwide, and sent to our appointed International President. In three short sentences he said, “I received your letter. It was sent to the appropriate department for investigation and follow through. And you will be hearing from that office in the near future.”

That is the exact same rubber-stamped response I got from Past President Yokich when I wrote him 18 months ago about our overworked jobs. I still haven’t received a response from the appropriate department on that one. That’s why I was so hard on UAW President-select Gettelfinger in my letter. I knew deep down that he wouldn’t be any better than the other appointed traitors that have occupied Solidarity House the last 20 years. As far as I’m concerned, I wasn’t hard enough on him, but give me time, I’m sure I can be in the near future.

Small Work Groups (SWG)

For two weeks in October, I roamed the plant during breaks and lunch asking coworkers what they think about our SWG meetings and the Plant Managers Challenge. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the majority of you feel the same way.

In the beginning SWG meetings were nothing more than thumb twiddling head shaking bullcrap sessions, because we didn’t have anything to talk about except each other, and usually not in very flattering terms. So management gave us 5 topics to talk about, and they are Safety, Cost, Quality, People and Responsiveness.

I have issues with all five of these topics. For instance, Safety; In the Paint department, a 95lb roll of plastic fell from its 7ft high position and missed two workers by only inches. The incident was brought to management’s attention and a Mickey Mouse solution was applied. Two months later the potential for another mishap still exist.

Cost; Workers on the Sealer Line are complaining that the seams they’re required to seal are of poor quality due to the assembly process. The problem isn’t with the Body Shop; it’s the Stamping Plant that supplies us with the panels that are required to build the van. The stamping dies are old and worn and need replacing. Management said, “Detroit won’t allocate the necessary funds to make new dies.” Detroit’s decision lowers quality standards.

Quality; Upon our return from the Summer shutdown, for unknown reasons the Paint department was having a problem with craters in the paint on a lot of jobs. We did all we could to correct the problem, but it was management who made the decision to ship them, as is.

Customer enthusiasm went out the window that day. We want to do a quality job, but it’s frustrating when we reject a job and management overrides our decision by saying, “Ship it,” so they can report to Detroit that they made their quota. Therefore quality is their responsibility, not ours and certainly not the unions.

In the People category, they want us to talk about topics like suggestions, celebrations, service anniversaries and birthdays. If it has to do with work, sure lets make suggestions and talk about the millions of vehicles we build, but leave our personal life out of it.

Most people like to keep their personal life separate from their work life. Like the person with an approaching 37-year anniversary doesn’t want to hear a 10-year person say, “Why are you still working when you could be retired?” And most people don’t want to reveal their age or personal business either, so lets stick to shop talk, thank you very much.

And Responsiveness; In the Paint department, people complained that management wasn’t responding to their SWG concerns. One group requested floor mats months ago, none available, still. Another group requested better over-head lighting months ago, not done. And another group requested that air filters in a sanding booth be changed more often, management said, “They work better when they’re dirty.” I’m not kidding.

All around the plant people have been complaining about the vending machines, for months. Management has been working on the problem, for months. Others complained that they write the same thing up week after week after week. One person told me they wrote up an issue in red ink one week and it still wasn’t resolved.

One person compared their SWG Meeting to an AA meeting. A couple others said that their coordinators run their meetings like they were supervisors; I think we all know someone like that. And another said, “The coordinator treats all ideas and suggestions like they were their own.” No surprises there either.

On 10.09.02, two groups in Paint suggested the meetings be changed to 10:30 so we can go to lunch when their over, management didn’t waste any time responding to this one, they said, “If we do that, the groups attention won’t be focused on the topic at hand.” As if we’re focused anyway, we’re too beat to focus. Then the following week management showed their true colors when they said, “If we change the time of the meetings, everyone will cut out early for lunch.”

Duh! Isn’t that a good indicator of how exciting and informative these SWG meetings are? They’re about as exciting and informative, and as useful as the doctored charts and graphs they show us at their monthly meetings. Speaking of which, it’s okay to move our SWG meetings on the last Wednesday of the month to accommodate their safety meetings, but God forbid they accommodate us by moving all of them to 10:30. And here’s another kick in the pants fellow coworker.

At the end of September’s safety meeting the supervisor ask if there are any questions. That not unusual, but it’s a 3 to 5 minute walk to our safety meetings for some people in the Paint department, and everybody knows, except management, that every minute of free time counts when you’re on the line. So at 5 minutes to lunch the supervisor asks for questions.

Yes, a coworker does have a few questions. He asked his first question about quality, and you could hear grumbling coming from coworkers. He asked a follow up question and the grumbling got louder. By the third follow up question everyone was ready to stone him, because they wanted to go to lunch.

It’s not the coworker’s fault that he had a few questions, but his coworkers sure made him feel that way. Or should I say management did? Because they’re at fault for running the meeting down to the wire and then asking if there are any questions. They don’t want us to ask questions. If they did, they would have quieted the grumbling and told us to report back from lunch 5 or 10 minutes later so all questions could be answered in a timely manner.

Management pitted our Local against a Local in Indiana for Allison Transmissions, and now they’re using the same tactics to pit SWG against SWG, and worker against worker. Everyone left the meeting upset with the coworker when they should have been upset with management. We must stop falling into management’s trap of pitting us against each other.

October’s safety meeting was a little different. At 5 minutes to lunch, management says, “The meetings over, but if you have any questions, we’ll hang around to answer them for you.” Wait a second, didn’t our coordinators just tell us during the SWG meeting that the Plant Manager invited us to a Town Hall type discussion in the cafeteria “after line time?”

See what I mean? Management doesn’t want us to ask questions, because anyone who works on the line doesn’t want to use their own valuable time to ask questions, not during lunch and definitely not after line time, and they know that. My group decided that if we have any questions for a supervisor or the Plant Manager, we’d invite them to a SWG meeting.

Speaking of the Plant Manager, he said, “If we come to work every day and do a good job, he’d give us a Toy Van for Christmas.” The magic word being “If.” Most of you thought he was talking down to us like we’re children. Most of you also had some pretty creative suggestions about what he could do with his Toy Vans, giving them to charity was one.

One coworker said, “If they take our SWG meetings away, we’ll wish we had them back,” I don’t know about that, because we did all right before. Unfortunately though, they’re a part of the Living Agreement that nobody claims to have voted for. And everybody agrees that if we must have them, its better to have them during work hours than after line time, because after a hard day on these killer jobs, we just want to get out of here.

On August 22, 1999 we supposedly ratified our Non-expiring Living Agreement. That was over 3 years ago, and it has become painfully obvious that there is not one damn thing in this Agreement that benefits us. And I can’t tell you how sick it makes me feel to know that there are still diehard followers of those traitors Alfred and Miller out there.

Whatever, more about them next month. Management can force us to attend SWG meetings, but they can’t force us to participate. And since we’re stuck with them, we need to find a way to use them to our advantage, not only on the shop floor, but to build Solidarity and influence change within the Union as well.

If an issue isn’t resolved, like the vending machines or a maintenance or health concern, have your coordinator write it up and keep writing it up weekly until it is resolved. And put your committeeperson to work, if management won’t resolve the issue, write them up, designate a group member to file a grievance this week, and another member to file the following week if its not resolved. Don’t do a group grievance, because that’s too convenient, lets start piling them up. Remember, the committee people work for us; make them do their job.

I think I may have hit on a great way to use SWG meetings to our favor. According to management’s propaganda Newsletter, the Baltimore Assembly Times, there are over 90 SWG throughout the plant. Each group is made up of 8 to 12 members, so if each group designated 1 or 2 members to attend a union meeting, that would be 90 to 180 members who normally wouldn’t attend.

There are only 4 meetings a year; each member would only have to attend 1 union meeting every year or so. Wasn’t it our lack of involvement that got us into this mess in the first place? I know that we can do this, because its only 2 hours a year, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Add 90 to 180 members to the 10% of the membership that usually attends and that’s a good turnout, and a good turnout can influence decisions.

I know that if I had my way, I would terminate this pro-corporate anti-union Agreement and go back to a traditional 3-year contract. Maybe if enough of us attend union meetings, we could do just that. If not, we could at least stir up trouble for those who refuse to cut ties with management and International traitors.

December’s Union meeting is shaping up to be another milestone as far as decisions that affect us as a membership go. So the more members that attend, the less likely a decision will be ruled in favor of those who misappropriated Union Funds for the Conventions. Oops, I mean misused Union Funds; that’s what they’re calling it. Whatever, more about that in next months letter also. Please think about designating someone or volunteering. Your Union needs you.

In Solidarity,
Doug Hanscom

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