Randy Homenick, Chrysler Autoworker and Plant Communicator

How did you begin working for Chrysler?

I grew up in the shadows of the Windsor Assembly plant, five blocks away. It is a modest neighborhood. The area had many families working at the plant. Ironically, the future CEO, Tom Lasorda, grew up three blocks away. We are the same age, and knew each other as children.

cordoba plant

After high school, I worked for eleven months at a stamping plant, also in the area. I quit with the intention of returning to school when I got the call from Chrysler and a job offer as an assembler. The first job I had was installing starters on the engine line at the McDougall Road truck plant which produced medium sized truck frames designed for school buses. This location was called Plant One. This job paid nearly $1.00 more per hour and I jumped at the chance.

My career began August 31st, 1973. One week later, the contract expired and I was officially on strike for seven days.

You mentioned Tom Lasorda. Am I correct that he demanded a lot of the union for Chrysler to remain in Canada?

The LaSorda connection to Windsor is his father, who was the president of the local Union, for the Windsor Plant. Tom and some of his family, like Tom, either worked at the plant or as a student at the plant, as he was going through university. He had other siblings that worked at Ford.

It’s called a TPT (Temporary part time – these are usually students who are attending post secondary school working on Friday, Saturday, or Monday in relief of a full-time employee who wishes to take time off. They have to be in school carrying a full schedule and are allowed to work for a period equal to their course length or five years I believe).

His father was the second president that we had for our local. He had served, I think, two terms as the president. But Tom went, once he finished school and prior to coming to Chrysler, to General Motors. When he hired back into Chrysler, his father had already retired, and when his father was the president of the local, we were still part of the UAW at the time. This is before the UAW/CAW split. I think that was back in around 1977-1982. The neighborhood next to the plant was five blocks square, and there were quite a few families that had people that worked in the plant.

Between managers, supervisors, hourly workers, union reps, it seems we had a lot of people in that general neighborhood. It was almost a given that, growing up, when it was time to get a job, it was quite easy because we had all three of the big three in Windsor. We had General Motors, we had a couple Ford locations, and we had Chrysler locations, so it was not unusual just for someone just to apply to one of the big three to get a job.

Would you please give me a time-line summary of your career?

  • Plant One – August 1973 through December 1973 – laid-off
  • Plant Two (engine plant) February 1974 through March 1979 – laid-off
  • Plant Three (assembly plant) June 1979 through July 1979 – laid-off
  • Plant Three (assembly plant) March (?) 1980 for one month
  • Plant Six (van plant) worked at this location for six weeks-unsure of timing
  • Plant Three (assembly plant) 1981 through retirement January 2008.

Can you talk a little bit about your town and how it has changed in the last three decades?

Windsor has been very dependent on the auto industry. Again, we had plants representing all three of the big three for quite a long time. The last fifteen years, we’ve seen a steady decline. As one of the answers I’d given you [via email] of all the plants just in the Chrysler Chain that had closed, plant one is gone, plant two was torn down, it was mothballed in the eighties, and it was knocked down. That’s actually the site because it was side by side with the assembly plant, they knocked down that building, and that’s where the new body shop for the assembly plant is located. So it was all on the same property. Also, GM has one plant, a transmission plant still operating but slated for closure in the near future. They also had a trim plant here that was sold to Lear, and later closed. Ford had, I believe, around five or six plants in the city and surrounding communities and are down to two.

We’re down to one plant in Windsor.

You say your brother worked at Windsor also.

windsor engine plant

I have many family and friends that have either worked at or continue to work at the Windsor Assembly plant. Starting with family, my two brothers, both older, started at the plants before I was hired.

  • My eldest brother worked from 1970 and retired in 2007.
  • My next older brother began his career, (the one from the photo) in 1968 and retired in 2000.
  • I have a daughter working in the plant and is on the list of those being laid-off due to the shift reduction at the plant.
  • I have two nephews, also slated for layoffs, at the plant.

As for changes, hold on to your hat. Like many auto towns, Windsor has suffered its share of belt tightening. When I began work, there were approximately 11,000 active workers in Windsor for Chrysler.

  • Plant One produced medium sized trucks - Now closed
  • Plant Two produced V8 and Slant 6 engines – Now closed
  • Plant Three was the auto assembly plant
  • Plant Six (opened in 1975) produced vans – Now closed
  • Young Spring and Wire produced seat frames – Now closed

When I started at the truck plant, the production level was 68 units per day, going up to seventy two units that fall. When I was laid-off and returned to the engine plant, the V8 line was producing about 1000 units per shift and the speed differential coming from 68 per day was dizzying.

As an aside, I often joked that if I woke up late for work, I might go to the wrong plant because I had been laid-off so often in the late seventies.

There is only one location now, Plant Three, where we produce minivans.

Today, the employment level is approximately 5000, which includes transportation and skilled trades.

Your daughter and your two nephews are slated for layoffs? I guess that means they’ll potentially come back if the auto industry starts doing better?

That’s partially correct. And the reason I am saying that is it has everything to do with the elimination of the third shift. Back in the early 1990s, when the minivan demand was just outrageous (we had like forty days of orders we worked six days a week, two shifts) we had St. Louis building minivans, and we still couldn’t meet the demand. And we, as the CAW, negotiated the third shift. We kept pushing for a third shift operation. And in 1993, we signed an agreement to bring the third shift on, and it was on the understanding that it was going to last for 18 months, to help satisfy the production for the sales that we needed at that time.

It was 1993 that we signed the agreement, and they’re just in the process of eliminating it right now. So, it's been fifteen years.

What is your prediction about bringing the third shift back?

Unfortunately, I believe that the third shift is gone for quite some time, based on the way the feeder plants are scaling back production more in line with a two shift operation. They have put their third shift employees on lay off without any indication of recall. This leads me to believe that Chrysler has taken the same tack as GM and downgraded their estimates on production levels/sales, for the foreseeable future.

The employees that are being laid off have recall rights, but depending on how many total, the recall could be a long way off. These employees are faced with the decision of waiting out the lay off or severing their ties with the corporation. This is a very agonizing decision.

I'm looking at something you said when you worked at plant 2, you went to 1,000 units per shift?

Yes, that is correct.

So that was a huge change because you were doing 68 units and then 72, at plant one …

Let me clarify a little bit on that. At the first plant that I worked at we built trucks. So the jobs were quite a bit more in detail. But we were building 68 trucks in a day.

When I was laid off, I was sent to the engine plant. Now, engines being quite a bit smaller than a full size truck, their production level was quite a bit higher compared with what we were building at the truck plant. When we were at the truck plant you had to stare at the line to see if it was moving. At the engine plant, the engines were moving so quickly from station to station, it really caught someone off guard who wasn’t accustomed to seeing the product moving that fast. And that’s why I said it was almost a dizzying effect to see that standard of production coming through.

canadian chrysler factory

The van plant production wasn’t as high as the minivan production was. Minivan production we were doing close to anywhere between 68 and 72 units per hour. They would do 400 units a day for two shifts at the van plant. So the different plants had different production levels. And depending on the line speed, would set how complicated your job would be. Our job set ups at the Windsor Assembly Plant were based on a 48 second repetitious cycle. So you have 48 seconds to complete your tasks. So they would time study it so that every 48 seconds you were ready to do your next vehicle.

Now there was an acquaintance I had, and we were discussing line speeds and Chrysler in general, and the remark was made that a person came back two minutes late from lunch, and everybody was upset because that person was late for coming back to work, and they couldn’t understand,

“Oh, it’s only two minutes!”

and I said, “That’s three jobs.” Because in that two minutes, three jobs have gone past his station, that he wasn’t there to complete, so two minutes to the normal person; a teacher coming back from school lunch is one thing, an autoworker missing two minutes off the line is quite a bit different.

So what happens to the workers around that worker? Does the next worker in line do both jobs?

No, oh no no no. You have a hard enough time doing your own job, you wouldn’t have time to do yours and the other person’s. That situation doesn’t arise too often, but if something along those lines should happen, there’s either a leader or an absentee person that the supervisor will grab and try to pick up the work. Because, and especially if your operation affects the next person in line, well, then they wouldn’t be able to do theirs. Well, it just snowballs into a larger repair.

And what was your first job?

My first job? Was to install starters. It was actually quite a simple operation that required the operator (me) to read a track sheet (list of options that accompanies each job) to determine which starter would be required to be installed. At this point, the operator would insert the starter into the left rear of the motor and tighten the starter to the block. Then the electrical connections would be made and you would proceed to the next engine.

It was right after high school, and you thought you were probably going to go to college and then you got an offer?


Okay, so can you talk about when you first walked into the plant how was that?

underbody pallette systemAgain, I had worked in a stamping plant, in the neighborhood. Fresh out of high school, eighteen years old, and that’s where I learned about basically earning a living. It was the first job that I had had. And that was my introduction to the working world.

So then when I had the opportunity to get called to Chrysler, and I was being offered a dollar an hour more, (I was making $2.00 – $2.30 an hour originally) I went in over $3.00 an hour (when I started working at Chrysler.) I jumped at the chance because, it was, again, it was Chrysler -- the huge building -- you know they’re going to be around forever, and you had all the benefits that went along with being a Chrysler employee.

So when I got to the truck plant, it was an old plant, an old facility, the McDougal Road plant, and it had two different buildings, one was where they build up the axels, and the motors, and then they shipped them over to the main assembly building where they would install both pieces into the frame and skeleton of the vehicle itself. So I worked on the motor line for a short period of time and then I got transferred to the body shop. Here’s a question I don’t know if anyone can ever answer:

The body shop is always called “body-in-white.” We can’t figure out where the body-in-white term comes from because it’s not a white body. They’re all gray. It’s just pure steel. Well, prior to the undercoating or whatever. But it’s called body-in-white and I've asked people over many generations why that is, and nobody seems to know. So there’s a trivia question for you that you might be able to get an answer to.

Anyway, I worked in the body shop there -- got laid off at near Christmas of 1973 -- went to the engine plant, and that was, again, culture shock in the sense that it was a much faster, larger plant than what I was accustomed to; more precise work. Obviously, you’re working with motors. Producing motors. I enjoyed the work. It was hard work. Most of the parts were small pieces you would have to put screws in and different small parts, or you lifted these large pieces. Like cylinder heads; crankshafts; camshafts and stuff like that. You either had small little jobs to do, or big heavy jobs. And depending on your seniority, and quality of the job, determined what you had to do. I worked in 4 or 5 different departments in the engine plant. Drove a lift truck for a bit.

You drove a lift truck too? Wow, you strike me as a pretty versatile person.

That comes with being an auto worker. You go wherever your seniority carries you. So, because I was a junior employee I would get bumped around quite a bit. And wherever they needed manpower they would send junior employees in to fill in the gaps kind-of-thing. So while driving a lift truck was not considered a low seniority job, they needed low seniority people every now and then to fill in for people who were off on extended leaves; on vacations, sick or on accident, so the life of a junior worker, you could be working in 4 different departments over the course of four months, depending on how the manpower fluctuates.

Now, from the corporate standpoint, they would prefer that there was no movement, and from the employee’s standpoint, especially a junior employee, you get bounced around a bit, it kind of breaks up the monotony of working at the plant.

So when you go to work if the supervisor says “Well you’re not working in our department any more, you have to report to the office,” they send you to a different area and they say “this is your operation,” well if you want a job, you’re going to do it to the best of your ability.

That sounds pretty scary to me. I was a teacher and if I had to not know what I was going to be doing that day, well I think that would have been crazy.

No, not really. Well, for the most part it’s not like you were going to school and they would say to you “Okay today you’re doing science,” and when you went in tomorrow they would say “Okay well something happened and today were going to have to throw you in to a geography class.” Nothing even close to that, but at the same time, it is manual labor. No matter how you look at it, it still breaks down to manual labor.

I just want to ask you about driving the lift truck. Did you have experience doing that before you had to do it for work?

No, they’ll teach you. They do have instruction on the jobs that you would go on, you would not go on cold. They would either have someone working on it with you, or, in the case of lift truck, and especially now, they have training for doing the operation. Like for the lift truck, they knew far enough in advance that I was going to go on the job, that for a week prior to it, I was doing training in that truck. So they trained me at midnights how to operate a lift truck. So that when I went in while the plant was running full production, I was comfortable; I was trained on how to drive the lift truck.

You said they trained you at midnight …so did they train you after you got off your shift?

I guess a little clarification about the Windsor operation is in order. The Windsor operation is different than American operations in the sense that my understanding of the American system is that when you hire in, whatever shift you are hired onto, that is the shift you remain on, and whatever job you start on, that’s the job you remain on. That’s not the case here, or at least it hasn’t been the case until this present time, and I don’t know if they’re making any changes in the future with it. But, the way it works here is, when you hire in, you hire in as an employee, and again, being a junior employee they can bounce you around from shift to shift depending on what the manpower requirements are. If you are firmly in a department, once a year, by seniority, you post on a job. Put all the jobs on a board and going from the highest to the lowest they go by seniority to that posting board post on the job and that job is theirs for the year.

windsor assembly plant - front

Now at the Windsor assembly plant, we’ll use that as our example: We run a three shift operation there. The day shift and the afternoon shift, so using American terms the number one and the number two shift. They swing every two weeks. So for two weeks you’re on days, then the next two weeks you go on afternoons, and go back on days, and go back on afternoons. So every two weeks you change. The midnight shift, the number three shift is static. If you’re a night person, you’re always a night person.

When we added the third shift to Windsor, prior to that we had two shifts, back and forth with the third shift basically used for preventive maintenance on the machinery. For the most part the plant was idle. But there were skilled trades that worked on the midnight shift. Very few others. When we went to the three shift operation, most of that P&M (preventative maintenance) work happened in between shifts. During breaks, and on weekends. And again, the one and two shifts would swing days and afternoons. And third shift was static.

Now when I worked, back in the 1970s, as a lift truck driver, the department I worked in where they taught me how to drive jitney - that’s a Canadian term - lift truck when they were teaching me to drive on the midnight shift obviously they had enough truck people in and had some of the departments worked on a three shift schedule at that time, but at that point their three shifts all rotated.

So you get the acronym DAM. Days, afternoons, midnights. And you did two weeks of each. So for two weeks you’re on days, two weeks you’re on afternoons, and two weeks you’re on midnights. And you go back to two weeks on days again. So it was easy for them to have someone work on the midnight shift, learning an operation, because the assembly line itself didn’t work on the midnight shift, just the feeder departments: camshafts, crankshafts, the head department, all these other departments making parts for the line worked on the third shift operation.

Did you find yourself getting “jet-lagged?”

I did not take to midnights very well. It was, for me, the hardest for my body to accept. And, back in the seventies, I was a young man, I was 22, 21, and I found it very hard to do midnights. Fast forward to the nineties, when they added the third shift at Windsor I had the opportunity to get a better job by going to the night shift. I took it, and I still had that same hard time on night shift. So it’s not something that changes with age at least in my case. I was on midnights for approximately five months and it was extremely hard on my system. I didn’t function very well on the night shift.

You worked in the engine plant, plant two, from 1974 until March 1979 and you were laid off at that time?

Windsor really took a hit between 1979 and 1981. We had people with up to ten years of seniority being laid off, who had worked full time, and they were out of work. I had no work. What you see is what … almost exactly what I had in work. I worked six weeks in one year. And at that time I didn’t have enough seniority because our SUB (Supplementary Unemployment Benefits) was so broke that you had to have over ten years of seniority to be able to collect SUB. It wasn’t available to everyone.

Good gracious! I mean, how did you get by then?

The only thing that I had going for me was the fact that I was single, and I had parents that I could fall back on. And in the country itself, that was when the mortgage rates were … the interest rates were crazy and the mortgage rates were incredible, people were losing their houses, their cars, families were breaking up, the economy was really in the tank during the early eighties. So it was quite tough in this area.

Inflation was around 13% here, so …

I am not sure of the figures here but I think interest rates on mortgages were about 18 – 19%.

In June 1979 through July, that’s only one month, you worked at the plant where you started, plant three. And you were laid off, and when you got back in March, you worked for one month at plant six, you worked for plant six, for six weeks. Then you finally got back to plant three in 1981. What was going on in 1981 that helped you get back to full time employment then?

We were building, at that time, the Cordobas, the Miradas and the New Yorkers at our plant, and at that time sales just started picking up. I don’t know, I don’t actually remember; know what the particular circumstances were because as a twenty year old, I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to what was going on. It was, you know, “call me up to work or not.”

The product we were building was becoming more and more in demand. Our orders started picking up. I don’t know if the advertising at that time changed, but the economy started picking up, and we started working more and more. And then we got the surprise of our life when … well even back in when, in 1982, and we had gone through a really nasty set of contract negotiations, and we had been on strike for a bit, and we didn’t know, we had gotten notified like on a Thursday that Friday was our last day of work, they didn’t know whether we were coming back and at that time, it used to be that you would have a weeks notice prior to layoff when this layoff came. It was devastating, it was like a rip-your-heart-out kind of thing. And nobody knew when we were coming back to work or if we were coming back to work. And the standard joke was last one out turn off the lights, because we didn’t know when we were coming back.

1984 minivans

Well, we ended up … the lay off ended but we had gone into contract negotiations and we were out for about 6 weeks, right before Christmas. And the contract was settled. That was back when we were trying to get parity, because we had given up our cost of living plus pay raises in lieu of, Mr. Iacocca had come to the corporation at that time, and we ended up settling the contract.  (At Chrysler we were making less an hour than our counterparts at the other big two. We had given up our COLA as well as yearly raises prior to this time during negotiations.)  We got back to work, and that’s when they announced the minivan was coming to Windsor Assembly Plant. And we were building the Cordoba, the Mirada, and the New Yorker, the Imperial, and we were starting to get some Saturdays into the schedule. We were working very steady and they brought this proto-type of a minivan in, and they had it in the plant, and I don’t know too many people that liked it. We all thought we were done.

chrysler cordoba

We thought “we’re building these beautiful cars…” because the mock-up they brought, that wasn’t painted. It was just an ugly looking shell, and we thought we were done. And uh, we rode that pony, we’re still riding that pony. It’s amazing how that vehicle transformed that plant. And what it’s done for the city. Because, when you have six thousand people working mostly six days a week, from 1983, and we ran full-out, at that plant. We kept the corporation alive. And especially after, because I worked on the line. As an hourly, all the way through to my retirement.

I went on my communications job in 1994. And from 1994 on I've seen a lot of this where because of all the tours I was involved in, people came to see what we were doing, and how we were doing it because we were doing such a good job keeping the corporation alive.

Our plant produced millions of minivans. The profits made from this product alone were the lion’s share for the corporation. Leaders of other companies came to see how we did business, as we did theirs, to learn better ways, bench marking, to be able to do what we do even better. As an example, we had our maintenance supervisors go to Disneyland to see how the machinery in their company is kept serviced during the hours the public is on hand.

Lynn Townshend and Lee Iacocca and other I guess CEOs, do you feel like they had any effect on your job and can you speak about your opinions about them?

When I would have had any contact with the CEOs, through my last position, Mr. Eaton was the CEO at the time. And I didn’t get a chance to, I met him briefly, and it was one of those situations where, again the job I had was important only inside the fence. Outside of the fence there was no one that would say “hey, we got to talk to Randy about this or we need Randy’s opinion about this.” (Laughing)

I was an hourly employee that did his job at the plant trying to promote, again, the company and the union, throughout the plant. So when Mr. Eaton would come in, we would have at that time Adrian would have his staff on hand, and Mr. Eaton would come in and meet with Adrian’s staff, and do a plant tour, so we’d get on the carts, drive around on the carts, get back up front, and Mr. Eaton would go back in with Adrian and his staff, and out the door he would go kind of deal. So, I had a chance to meet Mr. Eaton, but I had no interaction with him.

final check

I had an opportunity to meet Mr. Zetsche, but again no interaction with him. Mr. LaSorda, again, known him as children together but when he comes in it’s “Mr. LaSorda,” not Tom. You give the position the respect that it deserves. So, it’s not like he would come to the plant and say “remember back when we were six?” No! (Laughing) He wouldn’t do things like that, no.

You mentioned Adrian Vido in your note to Dave.

Changes cited by Adrian Vido in CMA:

  • Customer satisfaction increased by 38%
  • Number of warranty claims improved by 30%
  • Warranty costs cut by 25% per unit
  • Scrap costs cut by $2 per minivan
  • Injuries reduced by 18%
  • Grievances reduced by 55%
  • 32 million pounds of waste eliminated

There had been a culture change at the plant around the time that I became the communicator. The Plant Manager at that time was Gino Raffin and the President of the Local Union was Larry Bauer. These two gentlemen came to agreement on the creation of a job that would help both the Corporation and the Union have the ability to get information out to the employees in a timely manner. This was the beginning of my job.

Shortly after starting my job, Gino was entrusted with launching minivan production at St. Louis and thus began the career of Plant Manager for Adrian Vido.

Adrian Vido, as a Plant Manager, had the ability to bring out the best in those around him. He has a skill in which he was in charge of an industry golden child, the minivan plant, but talked to most as if he was your friend. As a manger, he would expect completion of duties, but would encourage those around him to do more than expected. I guess the term is he is a people person.

It became a scheduled event that he would stop the assembly line to hold town hall style meetings were he would update the workers, both hourly and salary, on the condition of sales, the marketplace, our competition and work schedules. He would do these in multiple areas of the plant over three shifts, making sure to touch as many as possible.

In the late eighties and early nineties the labor relations atmosphere around the plant was a little more confrontational than it is now. As a local union we have always had very dynamic leaders starting with Charlie Brooks who was the original president through Frank LaSorda and … okay I have to go through the list ... we had Brooks, LaSorda, Ken Gerard, then Larry Bauer, Ken Lewenza and now we have Rick LaPorte. But the labor relations aspect was a lot more confrontational on the fact that the corporation liked to run the business their way and as a local union, we wanted to have more input into what was happening on a day to day. … Ken Gerard passed away I'm going to say around 1990.

minivan assembly line

We’d just started these negotiations or were in the process of negotiations and he had had a heart attack and uh, that’s when Larry Bauer became president. And we were already seeing changes, but Larry Bauer had a vision where we were going to be more involved with the decision making with the corporation. The labor relations people at the plant corporate wide were also willing to listen to what Larry Bauer had to say.

So the job that I ended up with was designed as a communications tool for the Windsor Area. Because we had the van plant open at the same time. With the ultimate goal being that they were going to link the two plants together - that we would have bi-weekly videos going through the plant corporate and union updating the workers for communications benefit. In the sense that … like I said about Adrian’s town-hall … this was a precursor to the town hall. This was supposed to be where all the information that the employees would need, it would be like a newscast for the workers.

Chrysler SHAP

We had visited some of the American locations, we didn’t get to Belvidere apparently Belvidere had great communication system, SHAP had a great communication system. That was one of the locations we did get a chance to check out. So ah, that was the ultimate goal to try and replicate to some extent -- these types of communications; projects for the two locations. All of this was happening under the Chrysler banner. And then (I'm trying to think what the circumstances were that we ended up going to the new Chrysler or something) and one of their projects, now we had ours started on the ground here at Windsor, I was doing the job at Windsor Assembly and there was a gentleman at Pillette that was doing the same operation, and we were taking, we were going through training on how to do video work, how to work, camera settings, production wise, how to do the editing of the film. They were really teaching us quite a bit of information on how to get this system set up, because that was the ultimate goal.

It all came to a screeching halt when Chrysler decided to put in their own network system. And it was called CEN, the Chrysler Employee Network. That was a satellite system that was beamed through to all the plants doing exactly what we had planned to do at Windsor, but corporate wide. So it was a corporate newscast that was satellite fed to each location, and at each location we had television throughout the plants in several areas like break areas, cafeterias, common hallways where the salaried personnel would be able to get a chance to see it, and it was the news information on a grander scale than what we had planned on at Windsor. Our position had grown from these earlier negotiations in 1993.

It still seems like you would have some- specific to your plant – information you would want to get out.

Yes, and what we were able to do was to piggy back on that system utilizing the broadband system that they had in the plant by updating it with slides, a PowerPoint (for lack of a better term) we would do PowerPoint slides, with all our local information. And we were allowed to do union work as well as corporate work so when any of the standing committees from the local, when they would have meetings or if there was a membership meeting coming up, or if we had charity work coming up, all this information we would pass along to the members through these slide presentations. We would do that; any Saturday production schedules we would put up when the corporation would have tent sales. Corporate information about dependents benefits, all of this would be added to the mix. And you would have five minutes of corporate, five minutes of local back to five minutes of corporate, back to five minutes of local. So, you always had a revolving schedule of information hitting the floor bringing the membership; the employees up to speed on what was happening in the corporate world as in the union world.

That’s a lot of work. Did that keep you pretty busy?

Yes. Yes, it did. I was a team of one. So any time I had a complaint, I had to yell at myself.

How many people were you communicating with, 6000?

Yes, at our location 6000, yes.

So, you had to get it right or else you got a hard time from people didn’t you?

That’s putting it mildly, yes. I had to make sure my I’s were dotted, and my T’s were crossed. It was, put it this way, it was a great job, absolutely a great job, and I don’t regret ever being on that job. There was never a time that I did not like to be on that job. Short of retiring.

So it must have been a really good connection between the workers and the corporation; it must have provided a good connection. For you to like it so much, right?

It was such a change from the way we had done business in the seventies and eighties, that I think that’s why it was embraced as well as it was. If I tell you what to do every day, you’re going to resent it. If I ask you your opinion on what we should do today, you’re going to feel more a part of it, correct? And I think that’s what happened. We were involved in the day to day of it. And it made it much easier.

And on a personal note, I got to meet people that I would have never come across in my lifetime by doing this job. And the reason I am saying that is, we used to do plant tours, and we would do thousands of people a year. Literally thousands and thousands of people would come through the plant, every year. I met politicians, I met community service groups, I met people from all walks of life. We had a standing tour from a college in Maine that would come with their graduating class every year, because they wanted to see the manufacturing process. Established a relationship with these gentlemen. It was every day was different, everyday it was worth going to work for.

Would you be willing to name some of the politicians you met and the college in Maine that came to visit?

Northern Maine Technical College. We had Canadian federal politicians (Prime Minister of Canada, Paul Martin, federal industry minister, federal transportation minister, leader of the BLOC party of Canada, Gilles Duceppe, local members of the House of commons), provincial politicians, Premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, provincial trade minister, minister of finance, minister of transportation,) international dignitaries, (Israeli Ambassador to Canada),

So knowing what the company is doing and they know how their job fits in, is that what changed it?

I believe so. Now, for the person that’s throwing carpets in the car, I don’t know if they felt the same as I did. Because again, I went to a completely different type of work environment from what I had come from.

Prior to going on this communicator’s job, I was a hood fitter at the end of the final line. So when the car would come, I would check to make sure that the hood fit properly on the vehicle, and make whatever adjustments were required. So I still had a physical job. And I went from this into more of a, I want to say a clerical role (but clerical will give it the wrong connotations) but I went -- instead of using my hands I had to use my head. And for me that made a lifetime of difference.

So, again, I don’t know if the person that still puts carpet in at the end of the line if they noticed the same difference as I did, but I'm fairly sure they did. Because again, with the town-halls that Adrian would do, you would shut the plant down. And I know he had backlash from the corporation that they didn’t necessarily appreciate the fact that he was stopping the line. Because obviously every time you stop the line that’s lost production, and lost production means loss of money. But, I don’t know how he justified it, that was his business, that wasn’t mine, but he found ways to work with his numbers to be able to stop the line, and keep the workers informed of what was going on in the industry and the world and how it worked for people that were making inventory.

It’s interesting how the Union and the Corporation worked together.

Well, I'm not sure how it works in the States, but over here, everyone receives a check from Chrysler LLC. It doesn’t matter if you’re a union rep or you’re the communications coordinator, or if you are a carpet thrower, your pay stub says Chrysler LLC. So the union rep that walks up and down the floor and talks to everybody one on one, on Friday or on Thursday when his pay stub comes in it says Chrysler LLC. He gets paid by the corporation.

Will you tell us about the effects of the 1965 Auto Pact on Chrysler Canada?

1976 b-vanMy recollection of the Autopact’s effects is purely personal. On a larger scale, I'm not sure that my perceptions mirror the true effects, but I will give you my personal feelings on the subject. My understanding is that this trade agreement was put into effect to balance the trade between Canada and the United States with respect to auto sales and production.

Windsor had a direct benefit due to the construction of the Pillette Road Van plant, around 1976. This plant employed close to two thousand employees at its heyday, with the majority of these being new hires. The plant was manned by accepting employees from other Windsor operations on the seniority basis with my brother having the lowest seniority (1968) being brought to the plant with the remainder being new hires. They opened with one shift and quickly, if memory is correct, went to a second shift. This plant produced high quality vans for twenty years and would not have come to Canada if it wasn’t for the Autopact.

My understanding on what happened there, was we were getting to the end of the life cycle on the van. For it to meet, at least this is my understanding, I don’t know if this is true or not, but when it came to side impact and all the regulations that revolve around it, the corporation would have needed to make a large investment into it. To keep it relevant on, to keep it on the road in Canada … to make it as safe … to be able to sell it. They weren't willing to do that. So they it could have very well have been their plans for Sprinter was their way of not investing into the Pilette Road Van. Pilette Road would have continued to operate if it wasn’t for the dismantling of the Auto Pact. Because Pilette Road was there to satisfy the obligation for the corporation on Auto Pact. And it’s no coincidence that the Auto Pact was dismantled and then the Van Plant shut down.

So the auto pact was dismantled when NAFTA came in?

No, NAFTA was in prior to it. NAFTA came through in, I'm going to say, in what, 1988? Was when NAFTA was first signed?

Why did you retire when you did?

Honestly? I had the best job in the plant, and I didn’t want to do it anymore. That’s when I knew it was time.

Did that have anything to do with changes in management in the plant or anything like that?

No! No, no, it was just I had run my course, I was 53 years old, I had 34 years of seniority, and again, I had the best job in the plant, and I just didn’t want to do it anymore.

I see, so if you have got the BEST one …

Exactly. What am I going to change to?

Will you talk a little bit about your feelings about the CAW?

Dieter Zetsche with Buzz HargroveI have been a member of the CAW for 35-36 years. Well, between the UAW and now the CAW. They are a large influence on my life. I still attend membership meetings. Even though I am retired, I still go to meetings. I still partake ah, participate in the union. Always will. They did more for me than any other other outside influence other than my family. Nothing but good has ever come from my relationship with the CAW. Personally and professionally, especially personally because there are things that happen in people’s lives where it is out of the control of that person. Deaths, births, separations, you name it. And the support that I always received from my Union was incredible.

I am proud to be a Union man, my parents were Union, I'm Union, my kids are Union, it’s, I seen this one picture of a gentleman from the United States plant and I looked and he had a couple tattoos. One says Buy American, and the other says buy Union, and short of getting tattoos, I'm in the same boat as him. Again, to me it’s a socially conscious organization. We look out for the people that need support, we fight for social justice issues, we fight for community issues. When it comes to volunteering, fundraising in the city, we stand behind the United Way, we stand behind all the different charities in town, we support little league sports activities … the CAW is it for me and that’s … short of the tattoo, that’s it.

Health care is a big issue right now in our country, and [Canada has] had universal health care for … how long? Always?

I think, if my memory serves me correct, that our health care started I am going to say, in the late 1950s maybe. I guess the easiest way would be to google Tommy Douglass. Tommy Douglass was a politician, a provincial and then federal politician, who helped create the Medicare system in Canada.

All my time growing up my father was a worker for Toledo Scale and we had benefits through his employment. And we had our health care taken care of at that time and then ever since I've been working we’ve had out health care, now granted our health care is provided by the government, but then we’ve had our supplementary like our Green Shield, dental care, things like that through the Corporation and negotiations.


After this interview, the third shift was returned, and remained for some months on a “temporary” basis; in late September, with newly upgraded minivans on the way, it appeared that the plant will be hiring 60 new people.

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