In 1988, I was employed as a retail store manager who, in my first year, took a store that was down-trending in sales and up-trending in theft to a 10% increase in sales and a shrink of 0. In 1995, I decided to move on and for the past 16 years, I have been an employed by General Motors [GM], as well as, been a member of the United Auto Workers [UAW] union in good standing. However, probably due to my retail management experience, I am a conservative thinker who is not swayed by union or management “games”.
You see, I understand what it takes to make a business successful from both, an economic standpoint and an employee relations standpoint. When an employer loses it’s relationship with it’s employees by creating hostile work environments or pushing aggressive policies that punish the many for the sins of a few, the employee becomes prone to act out in revenge in all kinds of “unpredictable” ways.
The following article is, solely, based upon my own experiences as a GM/UAW employee and are not embellishments or based in nonsensical rhetoric.
Welcome To The Machine
GM is very different than many other large companies. For example, the assembly plant I work in this a full mile long, employs approximately 3,000 people directly, and tens of thousands of people who supply the parts we assemble, in an indirect manner. Our plant produces approximately 1,400 vehicles a day at a job rotation of 47 seconds per vehicle. Each movement and action is constantly scrutinized by foremen, internal engineers, and auditors looking for ways of cutting costs and improving efficiency. This creates an extremely stressful work environment for both, local management and labor, to work in.
Safety is an afterthought for GM, I have never seen a single presentation on “pinch points” and there are thousands within the plant itself. Forklifts have the right-of-way at all times during production, if you lose attention, even for a second, it could easily be your last second on Earth. One day, I had a foreman give me a direct order to operate an electrical welding device in an inch of standing flood water. Luckily, I was blessed with enough common sense to tell him, “no”, even though he threatened my job. No, safety is not a top priority.
The assembly line work takes a toll that, over time, wears your body down. Repetitive motion injuries, severe carpal tunnel, and joint arthritis pain are common ailments of both, active and retired, assembly line workers. This is exacerbated by the way management uses temporary or flex employees. Many times they will lie and “suggest” that permanent employment can be obtained by “outperforming others”. This will entice the temp or flex employee to work “faster”… and wind up seeking medical treatment for an injury with no benefits to pay for it, and likely, if they can not work because of the injury, they will be terminated and have no job to pay for treatment.
In a more personal example, I was “asked” to help a trainer during a model change, I agreed and while I was away they made my job impossible for the temporary hire replacing me to do without a second person assisting. When they took the assistance away, the job became impossible and I was called to the office for disciplinary procedures. I responded by telling my foreman that I would take the next day off and if they could find someone to show me how to keep up with the job, I would gladly learn. Upon my return, I was told that my job was overloaded and elements were removed. Further, I was told by both, management and co-workers, that the temporary employee that did my job in my absence was told, publicly, he would be fired of he stopped the line once. Well, he got fired and my job got fixed. Cool huh? NOT.
There Are Laws
The arguments that businesses are prohibited by Federal and State law from violating certain safety, ethics, and wage rules, are misleading. Yes, they are prohibited, but not all businesses mind these laws and GM is a prime example. Many times violations of sexual harassment and discrimination go unreported for fear of losing one’s livelihood in the backlash, not to mention, pursuing these type of allegations, as an individual acting against a company the sheer size of GM, in a law suit is a financial and legal nightmare.
Now, there are strict rules against violating company policy if you are an employee. However, if you are management, you can count on labor relations having your back no matter what charge is brought against you. The worse case scenario for most bad managers involves them being moved to a different area within the plant, or moved to a different plant altogether and very seldom does an involuntary dismissal occur. Some of these people are consistently accused of acts of sexual misconduct, harassment, personal intimidation, and discrimination, all against the law, and all “hidden” by GM labor relations.
The Unskilled Labor Lie
Working an assembly line in a GM plant does not take a college degree. This is a fact that I am, constantly, reminded of by the internal engineers [IE] who are hired to set up jobs. These “works of modern education” have made it a practice to exclude the very people who are responsible for doing the jobs they set up, even going so far as to insist that the employee is the problem and not their “calculations”.
On several occasions this winter, due to inclement weather, IE was assigned to do the line jobs they set up so the plant could start running until people could make it in. Every time, it resulted in high direct run deficiencies and large amounts of “down time”. I have yet to see one IE that is able to completely do the jobs they set up at line speed and the excuse is always the same, “I was not hired to perform this kind of work”.
So, my question is, who brings the most valuable “skill” to the plant? IE, who can not perform the jobs they expect labor to perform, or labor who, somehow, manages to eventually bypass IE and make things run?
The UAW – Rank & File
Considering all of the above, and there is much, much more that *I* could share, a person would tend to wonder, “why work for a company like this”? Well, the wages and benefits are usually the primary reason that anyone holds a job position. Further, many people, such as myself, become “long term” employees because we enjoy building trucks and take pride in the amount of vehicles, we produce, that are seen on roadways around the world.
The local UAW offers the rank and file certain “services” in exchange for monthly dues. They attempt to negotiate all plant related grievances during contract time and help employees take action when they are going to be disciplined by management. Contractually, it is best if an employee and management can settle their differences without union representation, however, if these differences can not be settled, a union steward will address the situation with the you, the manager, and/or his/her superior or labor relations [if required].
The UAW – The Business
I have a, rather annoying, tendency to ponder upon things in depth and the actions of the International UAW have given me much to ponder upon. For one, the International UAW recently held a considerable amount of stock in GM Corporation; enough to sit in the board of directors and represent “labor”. The International UAW has been quoted as stating, “doing so is a conflict of interest”, but the question is how?
How is it a conflict of interest, to at least attempt, to stop a never ending war between corporate and worker’s rights? This was a prime opportunity for the International UAW to get a realistic labor policy on a corporate level that would have bettered both parties involved and they utterly blew it. If the goal is NOT to make a “fair and equitable labor policy” then what is the goal? Am I supposed to support a never ending war between labor and management that I am forced to participate in?
Right To Work
I am equally disturbed by the dishonest approach in which the UAW leadership [and many other unions for that matter] have distorted “Right to Work” legislation in Indiana. In 1947, a federal law was passed that outlawed “closed shops”. A closed shop was a union shop that forced a person to become a part of the union against both, their own will and the will of the company. Unions across the nation responded in kind by negotiating contracts with companies to refuse employment to persons who would not join local unions. This is commonly referred to as a “union shop” and represents the exact same thing a “closed shop” does. No union, no employment. Again, in response, a federal statute was written called “Right to Work”, this allows a State to prohibit both, union and employer, from forcing unionization on a current or potential employee. The same thing that federal “closed shop” law already prohibits.
The UAW, along with other captivated union members, are demonizing this legislation as a “union-busting technique” or “an attack on collective bargaining”. But, the “dirty little secret” is that “Right to Work” legislation forces a union to “earn it’s keep” if it wants to retain membership.
Public Sector Unions
Unlike business management, government management positions are filled by people who are ‘elected’. It’s a process we have used for over two hundred years, it is a process we have asked other countries to embrace, and it’s a process that is usurped by union intervention. It is a direct conflict of interest to the democratic process to have unions stand between the people who “elect government management” and “the government worker”, who incidentally, has a vote in the election process as well. In a private sector business, all wages, benefits, and bonuses consist of company profits, however, public sector wages, benefits, and bonuses consist of tax payer dollars. If a company/union make poor decisions and go bankrupt, usually, the only people effected are those who are directly involved with the company/union. If a government/union make poor decisions and bankrupt a town, city, state, or the nation, then all government services stop. You lose police, firemen, emergency, postal and services, as well as all government contracted workers. Construction projects cease, bridges and roads decay, sewage problems go untreated, and a myriad of other extremely serious problems occur on a massive scale.
To be short, unions should NOT be collective bargaining with government officials on behalf of public sector workers. If “the people” feel they are not getting their money’s worth, they will respond to the piss poor management elected with or without union involvement.
Union And Politics
Without fail, every election cycle, Local and International UAW leaders hit the shop floor in an attempt to get the membership to vote for Democrats. This always makes me wonder how the rank and file would feel if they were told by management to vote for Republicans? It, seriously, offends me, as an adult, to have a person tell me how to vote by either covertly or overtly threatening my job, wages, or benefits.
But what I find even more distressing are the number of Progressive Socialist/Marxist thinkers that seems to dominate our union leadership. Somehow, the International UAW leaders think they are prepared to enter the political arena when they helped contributed to General Motors bankruptcy and failed the rank and file by refusing a spot on the GM board of directors as a major shareholder. They want absolutely no risk and all reward… and this is who I am supposed to listen to for political and economic advice?
It has been suggested to me, on several occasions by several people, to run for a local union office, quit whining, and make a difference. If it were a matter of simply representing the needs and problems of my fellow union brother or sister, I would be a good candidate as I know enough business law to force management, at least within my own district, to comply with legal safety standards and act in a “professional and ethical manner”. However, I can not and will not support trading grievances to get people, who were legitimately fired, back, I can not and will not involve myself in political agendas that do not directly involve “my” facility, and I can not and will not lie to keep a person out of trouble; especially if they deserve it.
To My Union Brothers And Sisters
What can I say to you that I have not already pointed out somewhere in this blog?
- Taxes are required in a civilized society to make “necessary” government positions run; they should never be bargained with or mistaken for “government money”.
- Businesses are “treated” to tax breaks and incentives because they pay commodities taxes, payroll taxes, capital gains or dividend taxes, and/or income taxes. Quite literally, they are taxed to death and the person who REALLY pays, when taxes increase, is YOU because tax costs are not “absorbed” by a business, they are passed on to the consumer.
- Jobs that went to China will come back to America when the Federal government decides to stop the tax and spend game they are playing with the US dollar and get serious about getting America out of debt.
- Oil companies do not set the price of oil, speculator do. If you get rid of the speculators, then you ARE giving the oil companies the power to set prices daily, or hourly prices.
All I ask is, if you value our ability to unionize, consider carefully what our leaders are doing and saying in the political field as well as in your local shops. It could, very well, have serious consequences if they stir up anti-union sentiment in the private sector that will lead to REAL legislation leaving “the worker” truly defenseless against corporate greed. Demand achievable goals from your representation and reject the political rhetoric.
To My Non-Union Brothers And Sisters
Have patience, what we face, by standing up against our international union leaderships, is not a simple matter of quitting the union. There are many laid off people who would, willingly, take my place ready to fulfill the typical union-management status quo and nothing would change.
Please. understand that the severe lack of relations between GM labor and GM Corporate are responsible for the continued support of unionization in my specific assembly plant. I have, literally, seen temporary workers screamed at to the point of tears and then fired, in public, for not being properly trained, making small mistakes while learning a job, or taking too long to learn a job. As far as GM management is concerned, you are a body and that is all they need… and that is how you are treated.