Chrysler workers fuming over new speed-up

By on November 11, 2012

At Chrysler’s Warren, Mich., stamping plant, more than 400 workers have signed petitions opposing a new work schedule known as “3-2-120.” Nearly every worker asked has been eager to sign. The plant employs about 1,375 members of United Auto Workers Local 869.

The so-called “flexible operating pattern” (FOP) will have three crews working on two 10-hour shifts. The “A” crew works Monday through Thursday on day shift. The “B” crew works Wednesday through Saturday on evening shift. The “C” crew works Monday and Tuesday on evening shift, Friday and Saturday on day shift. Together, the three crews deliver 120 hours of production. In the past, the company was slow to implement such a schedule because it had to — by contract — pay time-and-a-half for more than eight hours’ work in a day and for Saturdays.

Premium pay after eight hours’ work in a day had been in the contract since Chrysler recognized the UAW in 1937. It was won for Saturday and Sunday work in 1938. Historically, unions have had better overtime language in their contracts than the time-and-a-half after 40 hours required by the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. In 2009, as a condition of the federal government’s $12.5 billion loan to Chrysler, workers, under duress, gave up all overtime pay not mandated by the FLSA.

This means Chrysler, with the FOP, can now get 120 hours production on two shifts without paying overtime or the 10 percent night shift premium. There is less paid relief time on this schedule, too. At Warren Stamping, where this writer works, three crews working 40 hours would give the company 225 minutes more production per week — about 25 eight-hour workdays per year. At Detroit’s Jefferson North Assembly, where the FOP just went into effect, Chrysler estimates that imposing the new schedule will yield an extra 49 days of production per year. (Detroit Free Press, Oct. 25) This is a 21st century speedup!

Workers are furious at having to give up time with their families on Saturdays to work 10 hours at straight time. Those who transferred from out-of-state closed plants need the weekends to see their families. Now they are being told that the closings are why Chrysler needs to squeeze maximum product from its remaining plants — at workers’ expense.

The 2011-2015 Chrysler-UAW contract does not allow workers at a facility to vote on the FOP. However, the company cannot impose this schedule without the consent of the UAW International’s Chrysler Department. Unfortunately, the International won’t budge from its decades-old strategy of labor-management cooperation. The FOPs are being imposed with Vice President General Holiefield’s consent.

The justification is that several thousand workers — all at the lower second-tier pay scale — are being hired at plants that had run with only two crews working heavy overtime. Not mentioned is that the 3-2-120, which according to Chrysler’s own figures has five workers doing the work of six, is a job-killer. The claim is then made that work will be done elsewhere if this latest concessionary demand is not met. If the union concedes this, the company will make the same threat again in another round of cost cutting.

When the UAW was more militant, it championed a shorter workweek with no cut in pay — “30 for 40.” In 1976, the union won Paid Personal Holidays, extra days off intended to create the need for more workers. These were lost during the 1979 Chrysler bailout. The shorter workweek is needed now more than ever. A place to start would be restoring the PPH days, along with paid holidays and the 40 hours per year paid relief time given up in 2009 and 2011.

Workers make noise

Workers want their local elected union officials to send a strong message to the International. A rank-and-file leaflet expressed their message: “Preserve the eight-hour-day week, preserve the weekend, and drop the FOP.” Local 869 members packed their union hall at the October membership meeting where 3-2-120 was being discussed. For almost two hours, members spoke in opposition to this brazen attack on the eight-hour day.

This writer was thanked repeatedly for reminding the local officials — who are presenting the FOP as a done deal — that Nov. 11 is the 125th anniversary of the Haymarket martyrs’ executions. In 1887, the state of Illinois hung four men, who were framed up in a bomb-throwing incident. A fifth died in his cell the night before. Their real crime was their role in a mass demonstration, the year before, held in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, which demanded the eight-hour day.

May Day — International Workers Day — commemorates that demonstration and honors the memory of Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engel, Adolph Fischer and Louis Lingg. By some accounts, Lingg, who was only 23 years old, took his own life rather than be killed by the state.

Rank-and-file workers want to hold on to the things these five died for. They are meeting and discussing fightback ­strategies.

Martha Grevatt is a 25-year UAW Chrysler worker.

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