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GEMA workers authorize strike

by David Zatz on

GEMA workers, who have been laboring under a dangerous implementation of swing shifts, authorized their local to strike if needed, according to the Toledo Blade, which broke the story today. While negotiations have not yet begun, the strike authorization provides union leaders with a stronger position. 98% of the members voted in favor of the authorization.

world enginesThe primary issue appears to be the swing shift, which has been implemented with no break times between schedule shifts. Workers go from day shift to night shift, with 12 hour shifts, without having any time to transition. A sizable body of research has shown that this leads to accidents (on and off the job) and health problems due to fatigue. The rotating schedule is also putting great stress on marriages and parent-child relationships.

The GEMA plant, built under Daimler, is Chrysler’s sole source of four cylinder engines for their own cars, and the major source of engines for Mexican-made Fiat 500s. The state of the art plant has tried to hire only top notch people.

One professional observer noted:

GEMA is a whole different animal compared to Chrysler’s other engine plants. Every person on the line there either has an engineering degree or a journeyman’s card in a recognized craft. … while the Harbour report on plant productivity was still around, it was named the Most Productive Engine Plant in North America three years in a row. That means that plant already produced more engines per man-hour of labor than any other engine plant (unionized or non-union) anywhere on the continent. Its productivity was such that, prior to the global collapse of the industry, GEMA was exporting WG engines to China, because it was cheaper to make them here in Michigan and ship them there than it was to make them there.

More recently, as the need for FIRE engines built up, the company and the union there agreed to try something unprecedented: hire half-a-shift of workers to attempt to produce a half of a full shift’s production. One shift could produce 400 engines a day, but Chrysler needed 600 e.p.d. That experiment started in July.

Since WCM was implemented, initial product quality at GEMA has nearly doubled, as has hourly output, largely because of the thousands of suggestions made by line workers to improve processes and equipment. As a result, at their last audit, GEMA was Chrysler’s number one plant in terms of WCM score, followed by Windsor, with Belvidere and TAC tied for third.

I may be overly cynical, but as a relatively-disinterested outside observer, this looks to me like an upper-level manager (above plant level) experimenting to chase short-term numbers with limited regard to the long-term damages such experimentation can cause.

The swing shift was also imposed onto Trenton Engine workers, but they are bound by a no-strike pledge. GEMA is technically a separate entity.

David Zatz founded Allpar in 1998 (based on a site he had begun in 1993-94), after years of writing reviews for retail trades. He has been quoted by the New York Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Detroit News, and USA Today. Before making Allpar a full-time career, he was a consultant in organizational psychology. You can reach him by using our contact form (much preferred) or by calling (313) 766-2304


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