02 March, 2014

Made In Mexico

I recently read an article about Ford moving medium duty truck production back to the US.  There were many comments on the article along the lines of "It's good to have good jobs coming back" "Quality will improve" "Best decision Ford has made in a long time" etc, etc.  I have some news for you and you're probably not going to like it.  Are you ready for a rant that is almost guaranteed to ruffle your feathers?  If you are, read on.  If not, well, we'll see you at the next post.

Moving vehicle production to the US is NOT a guarantee that quality of the finished product will improve.  Nor will it help vehicle design.  A shit design is a shit design no matter where it gets put together.  There's also the issue of trade unions.  I will say right from the start that unions are necessary but they've become too big for their britches.  Vehicle assembly plants are full of people who, rightly so, do the best job they can.  They're paid well, have good benefit packages and are taken care of in a decent fashion.  Some workers will realize they have a good job and will give their best effort to earn the paycheck they receive.  But, on the flip side, there are also a lot of workers in these assembly plants that think they're entitled to the things they receive.  Therein lies the problem, and the main subject of this post. 

Once upon a time unions were necessary.  If they didn't exist, the corporations would be taking advantage of their employees.  However, the unions have become a monster that is out of control.  Before you union folk start talking shit about me let me say this.  I was part of a union earlier in my life.  The UFCW.  At that time in my life I thought the UFCW was a bit of a joke until I actually needed them.  It was during my grocery store years.  As a young man I didn't quite see why it was necessary to be paying union dues, but since my Father was a union man at the factory I followed suit.  I frequently used my union button as a tie clip to show that I was a union man.  Being the punk I was at that time (read that as "young and dumb") I wasn't able to see how the union would benefit me.  At that job I started as a stock boy on third shift, got "promoted" to second shift supervisor (I ran the store from 5:00pm to 1:00am, not bad for a twenty year old, eh?) and then began to discover how much of a shit-head our store manager was.  The work schedule started to show that I would have to be in at 6:00am after working until 1:00am that same day.  I brushed it off thinking that it was a rare occurrence.  One of my coworkers may have had a family issue and it was the only way things could be worked out.  Not a big deal.  Then it started happening quite often.  Even with the energy of my youth, that kind of schedule was wearing me down in a big hurry.  I was pissed off that, not only was I given such a short amount of time between shifts, but that I was frequently called in on my scheduled days off.  I picked up my union book and started reading.  In the hand book I saw that I was to be given at least eight hours between shifts.  I waltzed into the office, went to the assistant manager (my direct superior and also the guy who did the scheduling.  A great guy BTW), showed him the hand book and said "Dave, you can schedule me as early as you like, but I'm not coming in until at least eight hours have passed from the end of my previous shift.  I can't do these crazy shift changes anymore.  I don't know when to sleep, I don't know when to be awake... I can't do it anymore."  In that moment I knew  that I had a union to back me up.  I realized that situations like that are why unions exist.  Without the support of the UFCW I could have been fired on the spot with "Fine, we'll find someone else who WILL do it."  That was the only time I had to play the union card and that's all it took to show me the importance of unions.  I enjoyed the health benefit plan (the only time in my life, outside of my parents care, that I ever had a vision plan.  Glasses are expensive ya know.) and enjoyed the job security.  It was a bit different at the local factory.  An alarmingly large amount of employees down there used the security that the union provided for things they shouldn't have.  The attitude of "entitlement" grew.  People began to think that the factory owed them a job and that they could do whatever they pleased because, you know, union.  As the saying goes, it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch.  There were too many bad apples at that factory.  The bad apples were, generally, a specific group of people.  The "old timers" down there knew what it was like before the union had been around, and the newest people knew they were almost always on the chopping block.  If sales went down and layoffs were necessary, the newest people got the ax first.  The old timers were retiring in large numbers.  It's the people in the middle that were/are the issue.  They didn't know the shitty pre-union working conditions and they didn't even consider a lay-off because of their place on the seniority ladder.  They walked from high school gradutation down to the plant, got a job and that was it.  Quality suffered (think about the cars from the late '70s and early '80s) and the "union attitude" became something of a joke in this town.  The morning foreman at the shop is an example.  He was a long time employee down at the plant.  Unions can't help too much when the factory closes.  We call him "Stereotypical Union Guy."  He's the least hard working person at the shop and when his eight hour shift is up, he's gone.  Regardless of how much his leaving will fuck the rest of us.  He doesn't quite understand that there isn't a union protecting his job anymore.  He also doesn't follow the system we have in place.  Hasn't even made an effort to learn most of it.  At the end of my shift (whenever it ends, usually way beyond eight hours) I go through my "paperwork" which consists of going through all the work orders from the night (and most of what "Stereotypical Union Guy" left unattended), making sure they match what's in the "computer" and updating our schedule.  I then write my "love letter" which is just important things the morning shift needs to know or might find helpful.  When "Stereotypical Union Guy" comes in at 6:50am (at least he's on time, more than I can say for myself) there isn't too much guesswork involved.  I've been told by our office manager and parts manager that on the nights (like, after a 15 hour shift) when I just pack up and leave, "Stereotypical Union Guy" is less than helpless.  Even though I don't get similar help from SUG, I still do my paperwork and write the love letters because the other people on day shift have come to depend on those things.  Those other people do what they can to help me so, I return the favor.  SUG doesn't realize how perilous his job is.  He doesn't know that the only reason he's still employed at the shop is because we can't find a replacement.  He functions just enough to be somewhat useful and that's it.  During his shift he has an "office girl", parts guy, office manager, the shop's owner and three mechanics (two of which are outstanding) to work with.  There is no excuse for him NOT to have his ducks in a row by the time I come in.  Know what I have to work with?  An "office girl" until 10:00pm (just over half of what I call "normal shift") and two mechanics.  One of which is fresh out of tech school, the other, though good, thinks he knows more than he actually does.  Compared to the day shift, I'm working with one arm tied behind my back.  And I STILL get more shit done than SUG. 

There is no mechanic's union.  There should be, but there isn't.  The shop's owner will say every now and again that "We're all replaceable" and he's right.  However, the owner's Dad worked at the same plant as my Dad and SUG.  That said, the owner knows the value of unions and doesn't take advantage of his employees.  As of late, the owner expects some crazy efforts from us but it's what the business dictates.  Most of his employees know that if the business does well, they will do well.  It's a team effort.  What cemented my dedication to the owner was the situation his business faced in 2009.  The local "plant" closed and truck traffic dried up.  That means we didn't have much work coming in.  We also lost a big fleet account.  Things were dicey at best.  The owner had to let the newest guy (he was almost to retirement age and skilled to boot) go, but he kept the rest of us on.  We went a little over two years with no raises and no bonuses, but we had a job.  The fact that he did that despite him losing money (he had planned ahead) was more than enough for me to give him my best.  The owner has a good group of people and he knows it.  He knows he can depend on us and we can depend on him.  SUG doesn't fit into the team all that well.  But, and it's a big "but", we're a small business.  This situation wouldn't work in a corporate environment without the backing of a union.  Hey, hey!! Don't you dare drift away now.  In order for you, the reader, to understand the whole of this article, you need to understand everything I've written up to this point.  If you don't, go back and re-read.  Ask questions if necessary.  I'll be able to tell from your comments if you've read the whole thing or not.  Don't be a dick.  OK, let's wind this up and come to the "article-gasm." 

Ford bringing medium duty production back to the US doesn't necessarily mean they give a crap about workers in the US.  They're a business and they want to be as profitable as is possible.  Bringing production back to the US probably just means American workers are so desperate that they'll agree to concessions in their union contracts that will make production more profitable here.  Maybe Ford knows that dangling the carrot will pay off  in the long term.  Unions don't amount to squat if there aren't any jobs for the union members.  Ford knows this.  Maybe Ford knows that with the desperation felt by American workers, they'll be a bit more appreciative.  Maybe that appreciation of having a decent job will make the workers do a better job, thus improving the quality of the finished product.  Or not.  It's up to the people on the assembly line.  A shit design is a shit design and the people assembling the vehicles can't make up for that.  But they can, and do, have an impact that is beyond the control of the company.  My brother, for example, started at the local plant at a time when employment wasn't guaranteed.  When he started he was the low man on the seniority ladder and suffered because of it.  Frequent lay offs, questionable future, anxiety over how to provide for his family, etc.  He knows he has a good job and doesn't take it for granted.  During the week he lives two states away from his beloved family.  His goal?  A good retirement package.  At the time he transferred to another plant he was only six years away from retirement.  The decision to move his whole family to another state or become a "weekend Dad" caused him great pain.  Those few six years would be some of the most important years for his two youngest children.  He was extremely torn as to what to do.  If he moved his family to another state, they would be far, far way from the rest of their family.  The kids, as well as my brother and sister-in-law, would have to start from scratch.  He chose to live apart from his beloved family for five days of the week.  I can't imagine (being a single and childless person) the heartbreak my brother must have felt making that decision.  I believe it was the right one.  My brother's two youngest children may not realize it now, but they will in the future, but their Dad was doing what was best for them.  The kids will realize that even though their Dad was absent for a lot of their formative years, he was doing what was best for them.  The kids' Mom also made the right choice.  She took a buy-out from the factory, went back to school and learned a new trade.  She is now involved with one of the businesses that is coming up in this town after the "plant" left.  They're both working their asses off and making the best of what life has handed them.  And they will achieve their goals.  They will achieve those goals because they appreciated their union benefits, not because they expected their union benefits and took them for granted.  If you have a certain model of pick-up truck and you enjoy the comfortable, heated (because you're a pussy) seats, you can thank my brother.  You should thank him for solving some problems that the people in corporate wouldn't ever dream of in their nice, comfortable offices.  You should thank him for fixing problems on the spot instead of saying "the dealer will take care of it under warranty." and letting the truck proceed down the line.  When you have a vehicle that you absolutely love, you can thank people like my brother.  When you find yourself complaining about how your vehicle is a huge piece of shit, go talk to "Stereotypical Union Guy." 

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