By on January 7, 2010

Still striking as of 2007 (courtesy:Time)GM’s Lordstown, OH plant was something of a poster boy for all that went wrong with the UAW over the past several decades, reports the New York Times. Poor quality, worker sabotage and crippling strikes led to the coining of the term “Lordstown Syndrome” as a symbol of UAW recalcitrance. Lordstown’s workers were so feisty that they even picketed their own union hall in the 1980s. Now, with the legacy of the Vega hanging over their heads, and the possibility of plant closure only narrowly avoided by securing the Chevy Cruze manufacturing assignment, the members of UAW Local 1112 are singing a different tune. “We were the bad dog on the street at one time,” 1112’s shop Chairman Ben Strickland tells the Times’ Nick Bunkley. “We’ve got 3,000 lives to worry about. The cockiness and the arrogance that we once portrayed — we definitely got a lot more humble.” That, it turns out, is in large part due to General Motors’ spectacular fall from grace.

Strickland explains:

When General Motors had such a big percentage of the market, our fears weren’t there. There wasn’t a trump card that we didn’t pull. Now you’ve got to be careful about pulling those trump cards out because it could be your last. We want G.M. to be successful. We want the U.A.W. to be successful. Making that happen on both sides, that creates security.

Local 1112’s President Jim Graham adds:

Everyone has come to a realization that management is not the enemy, and the union is not the enemy. The enemy is the foreign competition,” he added. “We’re working much, much better with management than we ever have. There’s still problems, but we sit down and work those out.

Who’d have imagined it? But then, who in the UAW of the 1970s and 80s imagined that GM would one day be bankrupt? Like so many of the internal problems that brought GM down, labor issues were largely a product of GM’s sheer size and dominance in the market. The same arrogance that led GM to squander its technological edge and commitment to quality led GM’s UAW workforce to believe that the gravy train would always be there, and that the primary goal was to get a bigger cut of the pie. That sense of certainty that GM would always be a dominant player in the industry has died hard, but with bankruptcy the lesson seems to have been learned. At least by the Lordstown workers the Times spoke to. The contrast between the quotes from GM’s UAW employees in this piece, and the recent re-hashing of the “perception gap” by Bob Lutz shows that even post-bankruptcy, those at the top of the GM organization may still be a little too well-protected from the price of failure.

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38 Comments on “NYT Declares UAW Free From “Lordstown Syndrome”...”

  • avatar

    “The enemy is the foreign competition”

    I beg to disagree…..your (UAW’s) enemies are the right-to-work states.

  • avatar

    Lordstown’s workers were so feisty that they even picketed their own union hall in the 1980s.


  • avatar
    Dave M.

    From the article:

    United Automobile Workers’ leaders in Lordstown, Detroit and other cities where clashes with management were once common said they have since decided that their only chance to survive in a global economy is to work with, not against, their employers.

    31 years ago I bought my last UAW car; this “what do you owe me” sense of entitlement was known back then.  I, nor my siblings, have a desire for anything UAW after our consistent successes with American made, non-union vehicles.  And I don’t see my elementary-age children jumping on the domestic bandwagon.

  • avatar

    “We have met the enemy, and he is us”.

    Good ol’ Pogo…

  • avatar

    It remains to be seen if Lordstown is free of the UAW/GM Syndrome.

    First time back to TTAC after a long break…..good article…..I might just hang around again…..

  • avatar

    My grandmother still talks about how my grandfather used to resent one particular plant for starting trouble.  Guess this is who they were talking about even though it was 30 years ago . . .

  • avatar

    If they’re so stupid that they just figured this out now, I don’t want to buy one of their cars more than ever.

  • avatar

    Is this the same UAW that just voted down a key contract with Ford that was essential to their long-term survival?  

    Is this the same UAW that drives around Detroit with stickers that say “Out of A Job Yet?  Keep Buying Foreign.”

    I’m thinking that they haven’t changed their thinking much at all.

  • avatar

    Speaking of sabotage, a friend of mine told me how management/union relations were so strained, that as protest, the guys used stuff old newspapers into body cavities (vehicle, not human). 

    One assembler tied a screw to some fishing line to cause an impossible to find rattle. He laughed. I was aghast. It was their own future they were destroying.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t doubt you’ve heard such stories…I recall hearing one about a “friend of a friend of a friend” who had a Cadillac equipped with a Coke bottle thrown into a door panel.

      But you’ve got to wonder if these are urban legends, since it’s always heard second- (or third- or fourth-) hand:

  • avatar

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the more radical/militant members took early retirements. There probably has been a change in remaining workers’ attitudes – a brush with death will do that to a person – but whether it’s too little, too late, remains to be seen.

  • avatar

    Not a “whole story” or an in-depth scientific study but, for a peek into SOME of the thought processes within the minds of unionized auto assembly line workers allow me to nudge thine likely bloated body to “Rivethead.”
    Free to read if your library has it or inexpensive if bought used.
    Even the mere reading of the comments at the link below can be enlightening.
    Hey… TTAC…  I haven’t noticed links to Amazon to many pertinent books, etc. you could embed within thine site using the affiliate scenario to reap some cash to cover expenses.
    Over the years Amazon has always treated me well as a consumer.
    Something to consider you rapscallions.

    Above link is a “direct” link and not an “affiliate” link

    • 0 avatar

      Great idea! We’ve got a few book reviews in the pipe, including some possible live chats with authors, which (considering the topics of their books) should make for some interesting conversations. We’ll look into this!

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, good idea, obbop. I’m not sure if I have that or not, but I know I read it. Iirc the guy worked on Chevy Suburbans, and one of his observations was that none of the guys who built them could afford one.

  • avatar

    This came up before re: the Vega, but this is a fascinating article on the origins of poisoned relations at Lordstown.  I guess managing people doesn’t jive so well with management by numbers, GM reaped what it sowed.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    A service manager told me horror stories about his preparation people finding unordered extras in new cars including half eaten lunches, beer bottles and dung in the door panels and under the seats. Cars produced in the days leading up to a strike or shortly after the strike were hardest hit.

  • avatar

    I have been hearing the rumors of this kind of stuff happening over and over… and it is almost always GM plants.  Hmm.  Still, where are the photos?  Proof?  Sometimes the stories seem almost extreme.  Don’t get me wrong, I trust it happened… but it would be interesting to see some photo documentation.

    • 0 avatar

      I had family in the industry and heard the stories growing up, but never saw any proof. Early in my engineering career, I was working on a project in multiple GM Assembly Division plants. Had my equipment sabotaged on multiple occasions, so I’ve experienced it personally. 

      Some of the sabotage stories remind me of one of the problems I had with my 97 Expedition. It was manufactured around the same time as a strike at Ford’s seating supplier. There was a loud squeak in the dash that took several attempts  by the dealer to resolve. It turned out to be a cross-threaded bolt, but I think it was just sloppy work rather than a deliberate attempt at sabotage.

  • avatar

    If there is a one root problem in GM, it’s that everyone was convinced GM was invincible.  It lead to everyone ignoring problems, because it didn’t matter.  We’re GM dammit, so why take a pay cut or worry about build quality.  We’re invincible.

  • avatar

    I owned a 1996 Chevy Cavalier built at Lordstown and this is one of the main reasons I avoid GM like the plague (the other main reason is the dealer who sold me this car, but that’s another story). The real kicker was that everytime I drove this car I had to look at a decal in the bottom corner of the windshield that said, “GM-UAW Lordstown Assembly.”

  • avatar

    For the first time ever the Lordstown workers will be building what is essentially a foreign designed and engineered car. They lost the war long ago.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think that Lordstown workers care where the Cruze was designed and engineered, as long as they get to build it, as opposed to workers in Mexico or South Korea.

  • avatar

    The UAW problems will never be solved until the UAW is gone. They may claim to have learned their lesson, but their aparrent attitude toward Ford currently proves otherwise. They won’t let up on FoMoCo until they’re on their knees begging for a bone from the government. You can also bet that once (if) GM returns to profitability, they’ll be back to their old games again, squeezing every dime possible out of the company until they’re broke again. The UAW should have been cast aside by GM and Chrysler during the bankruptcy. Not doing so was a huge mistake on their part.

  • avatar

    The enemy is the foreign competition
    Well, yes and no.  The enemy is foreign-produced product, if you define “bad” as “a loss of domestic jobs”.  Were I the UAW, I would be very worried about this, as it’s yet another industry that employs a lot of middle class people gutted to save money in the short term.
    The enemy ought not to be non-UAW plants.  The problem is that the UAW has spent a lot of time, inadvertently, in management’s pocket by running PR campaigns about nonsense like “the profit goes back to Japan” or “they just screw them together here”.  This is, patently, untrue in the case of most transplant products: they employ local workers and much of the supply chain is local.  The problem is that the UAW is going to have a really hard time saying “Well, shit, we were just making stuff up.”

  • avatar

    “Still, where are the photos?  Proof?  Sometimes the stories seem almost extreme.  ”

    A college professor of mine who worked his way through school said his job was to weld the reinforcements onto convertibles.   When the line got behind they used to send the cars down the line without the reinforcements. 

    I can only assume things like this were fixed at the dealer when after a few months the doors wouldn’t open?

  • avatar

     Great  article Edward,and a good read concerning where we stand today. @Gardiner Westbound and pig_iron….I think the phrase is ‘urban myth”. I spent 36+ years on the factory floor,from stamping to final finish. Maybe 800,000 vehicles I had my hands on. I can think of about five intances of  minor sabatage. All of were dealt with before they got out the door.

     I could tell you all about the idiot that thought it was funny to cough up a big gob and hork  it into the engine compartment. the rest of the assemblers tried thier best, but couldn’t  bring themselves to work around the filth. A young lady called the group leader over. [I know the groupleader dude REALLY well,if you get my drift]. The group leader and the repair man chased the work down the line. Chasing involves trying to perfom the assemblers work that was missed before it goes too far into the system. . Take a peak at all the hose,tubes,dog bone mounts ,sensors and just the air cleaner assembly of a late eighties Pontiac 6000.  Ok, so now you get a feel of what we were dealing with. Did I say ‘we”? it was the  group leader that I knew.

     Now …It may be time to mention the repair guy was a sort of a lay back fellow that rode a bike 5 miles to work everyday. He had arms the size of tree stumps,and certainly wasn’t afraid to work.

    After about 5 times of chasing repairs down the line,in the space of a week, the repairman leans over to the group leader and says. “mikey I’m going over there to have a chat with that as—-le. [groupleaders name was also named mikey,go figure ]
    The group leader ,smart guy that he was,said “I’m going over to reject to make sure we caught up all the repairs”

     The reject superviser runs up the groupleader..”mikey get your butt back to your group some body needs to go to first aid right now”. Turn’s out one of our assemblers had tripped and smashed his face into something quite solid, seem’s the accident prone dummy had done it more than once. Couple of teeth were loosened,and a fat lip but nothing the nurse couldn’t deal with.

     All the other assemblers agreed,that it was an unfortunate accident. The area superviser was doing paper work and didn’t see F.A. The groupleader was tied up in reject chasing repairs,and the reject supervisor verified that.

     Right ….boys and girls,and thats how life REALLY works on the plant floor.

  • avatar

    I bought a new 78 Pontiac GP T top that I loved.  Right off the bat it started using a quart of oil every 800 miles. After many frustrating dealer visits and calls with the district rep, they overhauled the engine and found that all of the piston ring gaps were in line. They turned the rings and that helped considerably. But I was tired of GM and traded the car in on a big diesel tractor.  The ag dealer kept the car and drove it  as his family car. On a trip out to california, he had a blow out. When he had the tire replaced, the tire dealer showed him a screw driver that was apparently the culprit. The screwdriver had peeled the inside tire liner off in threadlike pieces until the tire cord was damaged causing the failure. It was obviously a line employee put/left the screwdriver in the tire that ultimately caused the blowout. This was my last GM car. I was stupid enough to buy a GM  SUV that turned out to be a POS too. I will never give GM any more of my money. Nor will my sons and their families. IMO there is nothing too bad that can happen to these criminals.

  • avatar

    So the “Lordstown Syndrome” is dead and buried at the UAW?  Management and labor must work together?  Call me cynical but if the Cruze proves to be a popular vehicle, I wonder how long before the UAW begins to demand greater wages and benefits, and all that talk about burying the past excesses is forgotten.  Walt Kelly hit the nail on the head:  “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

  • avatar

    @Rday…..The tires come off of the truck and are loaded on a hook,sequensed,4 to a car. Even back in 78 human contact was minimal.the tire meets the wheel,and a fully automated system blasts air around the bead,the using the valve would be too slow.

     Ok, we will say for the sake of argument,the line is running 60 JPH= 240 tires an hour. So every 15 seconds we are sub assembling a wheel,tire,valve,air preasure and balancing the whole thing.

     Who the f— has time to put a screwdriver in there?  Don”t you think it would make a whole lot of noise? …Me thinks your Ag dude is feeding you a line of stuff a farmer would be quite familiar with.

  • avatar

    I beg to disagree…..your (UAW’s) enemies are the right-to-work states.

    And Mexico is the enemy of all the southern “transplant” states. Alabama can’t compete with Mexican labor that is just as talented and only paid under $4.00 an hour.

  • avatar

    Unions per se are not the problem.  All of these 1970s and 80s made-in-Japan cars we readers of TTAC love to adore and reminisce about were made by union labor.  Yes, the Maximas, the Z-cars, the Coronas, all of them.  Same with the Europeans.  Not that we would know it because the big corporate media likes to paint unions (the only thing standing between an individual and an amoral corporation or capitalist) poorly.  Remember, unions are directly responsible for: shorter working hours (no more 16 hr/day, 6 days a week), better pay, holidays with pay, safer working conditions which led to OSHA, equal pay for women and more.  GM’s troubles lie squarely on the shoulders of fat and happy management and union leaders as a result of decades of dominance.

    BTW, the emergence of non-union plants in the South has more to do with the eagerness to attract manufacturing quickly to an area with a poorer population that historically has been willing to work without asking questions or challenging their bosses. Because of compulsory education this workforce happens to be relatively well-educated as well. A “free” bonus to the transplants.

    • 0 avatar

      Remember, unions are directly responsible for: shorter working hours (no more 16 hr/day, 6 days a week), better pay, holidays with pay, safer working conditions which led to OSHA, equal pay for women and more.
      How, pray tell, are unions directly responsible for that?  All of those things are decades long trends that have persisted even as unionization rates have declined.  Heck, if you cherry-picked the numbers and started in the 1970s and 1980s you could “prove” that declining unionization was responsible for women’s pay approaching parity, decreasing workplace accidents, more flextime, etc.  It wouldn’t be accurate either.  Greater compensation in the long run (and safety and leisure, which are forms of the same thing) arises from productivity improvements, including technology improvements.  Unionization can indeed result in a modest transfer of additional money to labor, but a shift from, e.g., 52% to 55% of money going to labor is not the same thing as being “directly responsible” for the long-term trend.
      Unions tend to make it difficult for a business to change.  The problems for GM lay not in the wages per se, but in the productivity.  You can afford higher wages if your productivity is higher.  But GM couldn’t raise productivity without releasing workers (partially because its market share was so high); however, transplants could come in and hire new workers, and people wouldn’t complain that Honda “would have” hired twice as many people if it used GM’s more inefficient practices the way that they would complain if GM fired people by becoming more efficient.  In the long run, efficiency leads to higher wages and people and jobs are redirected elsewhere, but understandably people don’t like to go through the short-term dislocation.

    • 0 avatar

      I have never been a part of a union, but I enjoy better working conditions, pay, and benefits than my predecessors many years ago.
      Why?:  Job mobility and competition for labor, which are substantially better than ever.  Companies have to outdo each other in order to attract a quality workforce.  This is as true for blue collar as it is for white collar workers.
      Unions exist today merely to enrich their leadership, and extort more from their employers than would occur under normal market conditions.  And as 2009 shows, they cannibalize their own members by sacrificing their own principles in order to keep fewer and fewer of them working.  In the end, the market wins, not the union.

    • 0 avatar

      johnthacker, this is history.  The 8-hour day was fought for with much blood in the US early in our Industrial Revolution.  I hate to rely on Wikipedia but it’s convenient:

      gslippy, the reason industrial unions are on the decline is because our manufacturing base is being shipped overseas AND workers are not unionized worldwide.  Thanks to globalism, capital can now travel across borders for the best wage rates and productivity.  Unions are needed now as much as ever to protect the gains won.  Human nature has not changed, and profit-seeking capitalists have not suddenly become benevolent.  The system is by its design a-moral.  That’s why unions are needed.

  • avatar

    Are ‘domestic’ cars built in Canada by the CAW “foreign competition”?
    I suspect the “Lordstown Syndrome” could apply to F and C, as well as GM.

  • avatar

    Mikey, your story is illustriative, but it brings into question the professionalism of the assemblers.  I would not foresee such a thing happening in Europe or Japan, it would mess-up their little white gloves.  Actually, the relevant question is, is such a  destructive work ethic prevalent in Mexico, how do they work things out with respect to management ? In the book ‘ Getting the Bugs Out ‘ (VW) gastly throwing togetehr of the Mexico assembly line model of VW 10 years ago certainly did not convey a whte-gloves professionalism, but, that was 10 years ago.

    • 0 avatar

      @pleiter…..Keep in mind my story goes back 20 years. Talking to my friends, that are still there its a whole different culture lately. Do such things happen in Germany and Japan or the transplants?
      I will tell you this. Assembly work is boring and tedious, and a good percentage of people that perform it,are boring and tedious people. The very nature of the work brings out the very worst in folks.

       Lets face it Japan,Germany and the transplants aren’t hiring PHDs to work on the line. The blue collar culture of,”us and them” is still there, its just its just not so much,in your face.

  • avatar

    Interesting the many anti-union, ‘They’re just a lazy bunch of so-n-sos’ opinions I see here, showing how the victors get to rewrite history as they see it. So I’ll post a bit of perspective from an article from an English Left wing labour blog:

    Lordstown had a “track speed of 101.6 cars per hour: one vehicle produced every 36 seconds, by far the fastest rate in the world.”

    “The consequences of this high track speed are worth looking at. Instead of the ‘normal’ minute (60 cars an hour)  to complete an operation, which is bad enough, the worker has only 36 seconds. ”

    “Even if the amount of work to be done is reduced, the job is intolerable, It is even impossible for the worker to pace himself and ‘save up’ a few seconds by working flat out, so he can scratch himself or whatever, which is sometimes possible on a slower track. The addition of a single spot weld, nut, bolt, or washer to an operation cycle can be the last straw.”

    “Within a minute on the line, a worker in the trim department had to walk about 20 feet to a conveyor belt transporting parts to the line, pick up a front seat weighing 30 pounds, carry it back to his work station, place the seat on the chassis and put in four bolts to fasten it down by first hand-starting the bolts and then using an air gun to tighten them according to standards. It was steady work when the line moved at 60 cars an hour. When it increased to more than 100 cars an hour, the number of operations on this job were not reduced and the pace became almost maddening. In 36 seconds the worker had to perform at least eight different operations including walking, lifting, hauling, replacing the carpet, bending to fasten the bolts by hand, fastening them by air gun, replacing the carpet again and putting a sticker on the hood. Sometimes the bolts fail to fit into the holes; the gun refuses to function at the required torque; the seats are defective or the threads are bare on the bolt. But the line does not stop. Under these circumstances the workers often find themselves ‘in the hole’, which means that they have fallen behind the line. ‘You really have to run like hell to catch up, if you’re gonna do the whole job right’, said one operator named Jerry. ‘They had the wrong sized bolt on the job for a whole year. A lot of times we just miss a bolt to keep up with the line.’ ”

    To me it is no wonder there was dissatisfaction with management and it had nothing to do with wages or benefits, also it seem pretty obvious why GMs quality control for the Vega SUCKED! Personally I have never worked in a real factory or auto plant, but I spent 20+ years working as a professional Chef/cook and hence can understand how one can feel if the pressure becomes almost unbearable, especially when there is a danger of injuring oneself!
    Read the full article here:

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