"Our Customers Don't Know This is Going on, and They Don't Care"

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
our customers don t know this is going on and they don t care

GM's executive director of manufacturing quality Joe Mazzeo speaks the truth when he tells The Detroit News that GM's customers are oblivious to the threat to vehicle quality posed by GM's employee changeover. But they might care later, after GM replaces some 19k "top tier" union workers with half-price subs, expecting them to hit the assembly line after two week's training. "GM has been flooded with job seekers at many plants, but first crack at the jobs goes to idled employees of GM and Delphi Corp., the automaker's bankrupt former parts unit. The jobs then open up to outsiders, whose only shot at landing one is to be referred by someone who works at a factory." How reassuring. On the other hand, "GM is going to exhaustive lengths to ensure the shift doesn't erase hard-won improvements in factory efficiency and vehicle quality… [Workers] will be reminded that well-made vehicles keep consumers buying, which in turn leads to job security — and vice versa. Many workers will get a job shadowing assignment, and all of them will learn through simulated training done on assembly lines with fake cars made of two-by-fours and plywood." As for how many of those 19k union jobs are being axed and how many simply "downsized," the DetN is clear: "The automaker won't say." Oh, and those workers who are "transitioning" from one tier to the other get ten day's training– the same amount of education Disney requires for its "cast members."

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  • Brettc Brettc on Jun 09, 2008

    I toured a Navistar truck plant in Ontario about 15 years ago in high school. What I took away from it was that the work appeared difficult and monotonous. I respect assembly line workers because they perform a job that I probably couldn't handle on a daily basis. I've heard stuff about how lazy and entitled CAW workers are, but whether they are or not doesn't matter to me because they're doing a job that a lot of people wouldn't want to do.

  • Windswords Windswords on Jun 09, 2008

    One of the most fascinating parts of the Boxwood Rd assembly plant I toured was near the end of the line where the workers were adjusting the cars for alignment of doors, hood, and trunk lids. At the time Boxwood was assembling the last of the Beretta/Corsica "twins" or the first of the Saturn L series, I can't remember (today the plant makes the Solstice/Sky). The line workers were using special hammers or mallets made of some kind of plastic or resin to bang on the hinges of the doors and the trunk and hood. They would bang the heck out of some of the cars. Then they would close the door and check the alignment, sometimes using a measuring tool to check the gap with the car body. If one was particularly stubborn they had an air powered tool to loosen the bolts up a bit to adjust it and then tighten them down again. It may be because the public was watching them but they seemed pretty concientious about getting it right. The good ones had to just hammer on something once and it was good to go. It seemed to be one of those things that you learn to get a feel for. Not something any worker could do, but not a rarified talent either. I was incredulous seeing this and I asked one of the guys (I think he was the senior person on the team) about this technique and he demonstrated it to me. He actually took me on the assembly line (I was standing on the moving conveyor belt). He opened the hood of a car and hit one side with the hammer, thwack! Then he closed the hood and you could clearly see the gap was too big on one side. Then he opened it up again and hit on the opposite side, thwack! Now the gaps were even. What astonished me even more was he told me this is what all the automakers do, domestics, imports, even Mercedes and Lexus. Of course this was 12 years ago, and at the pace of change now a days I wouldn't be surprised if this technique is not used anymore.

  • Daro31 Daro31 on Jun 09, 2008

    I am right now working on updating the training procedures for my supplier plant to the big 3. Like other people here have stated we hire a lot of people from temporary agencies and a big challenge is to ensure that they are properly trained. I am continuously finding untrained people doing jobs. The Industrial and Quality Engineers have put numerous poke yoke checks (idiot proofing) into the systems to prevent bad parts from getting to the customer and on the whole it is pretty effective. The parts that always mystifies me though is that the Big 3 put all kinds of pressure on their suppliers to meet very rigid Quality Standards and yet do not apply the same standards to themselves at their own plants. I also have worked on the line for 5 years at Ford, and can tell you that my training amounted to a guy who was the laziest SOB around, helping me to get caught back up the line if I got to far behind. The following excerpt is from the TS16949:2002 Quality Management Standards that is put on the suppliers to the big 3. I can assure you that they do nit apply this to themselves. Training The organization shall establish and maintain documented procedures for identifying training needs and achieving competence of all personnel performing activities affecting product quality. Personnel performing specific assigned tasks shall be qualified, as required, with particular attention to the satisfaction of customer requirements. NOTE 1 This applies to all employees having an effect on quality at all levels of the organization. NOTE 2 An example of the customer specific requirements is the application of digitized mathematically based data. Training on the job The organization shall provide on-the-job training for personnel in any new or modified job affecting product quality, including contract or agency personnel. Personnel whose work can affect quality shall be informed about the consequences to the customer of nonconformity to quality requirements. Employee motivation and empowerment The organization shall have a process to motivate employees to achieve quality objectives, to make continual improvements, and to create an environment to promote innovation. The process shall include the promotion of quality and technological awareness throughout the whole organization. The organization shall have a process to measure the extent to which its personnel are aware of the relevance and importance of their activities and how they contribute to the achievement of the quality objectives. Also to all of those that have an opinion about working on the line and never done it I have a goal for you, try it tonight and then get back to us tomorrow morning. How be at 6:30 tonight, you set the table, silverware first, then plates then a glass, now put it all away in the cupboard. I hope you did that in 56 seconds, because we are going do it again. Same order set the table and then put it away. See if you wife won’t come around about 8:30 and let you go for 15 minutes for a piss break and a coffee and then again a couple of hours later. Let’s pretend it’s the summer, so go turn the thermostat up to 90 degrees. You are going to set the table and unset it about 480 times in the next 8 hours so try and pace yourself. Of course if you really want to challenge your self make sure you wear your safety glasses and safety shoes and have one of the kids bang on some pots all night. Get back to us tomorrow morning and let us know how easy it was.

  • Skor Skor on Jun 09, 2008

    @windswords, My neighbor is a retired mechanical engineer. While attending college in 1950 he toured the now defunct Ford Edgewater, New Jersey assembly plant with one of his engineering classes. He described to me a process very similar to the one you witnessed at Boxwood Road assembly. The Ford assembly workers of 1950 aligned doors, hoods and trunk lids by using mallets and 2X4s/baseball bats as prying levers. BTW, my neighbor bought his first car in 1949, a Pontiac. Since then the only brand he's owned has been GM. Nothing will convince him to even consider another brand.