Autoworkers protest ‘Awful Work Schedule’

Warren, Mich. — Despite mass anger in the plants, Chrysler bosses are not backing off from plans to impose so-called “flexible operating patterns” on hourly workers. These schedules, also referred to as “alternative work schedules,” are a diversion from a traditional three-shift, Monday through Friday operation.

On the AWS schedule known as 3-2-120, workers are divided into three crews: A, B and C. They all work four 10-hour shifts instead of five eight-hour shifts. The B and C crews are forced to work 10 hours every Saturday for straight time. The C crew works two 10-hour day shifts every Monday and Tuesday, but on Friday and Saturday works a 10-hour evening shift.

Erratic schedules like these swing shifts are known to have serious health consequences.

Workers at the Warren, Mich., stamping plant have been extremely vocal against what they call “Awful Work Schedules.” Since learning last October that Chrysler — with the UAW International’s approval — planned to impose an AWS on their plant, workers have taken the floor at every union meeting to voice their opposition.

Chrysler cannot impose an AWS without the approval of the UAW international vice president for the Chrysler Department, General Holiefield, who has angered workers with his insistence on granting the company’s requests.

Over 400 Warren Stamping UAW members signed petitions against the AWS. When the company held a “town hall” meeting last December, workers came in wearing stickers reading “Drop the FOP, no flexible operating pattern.” One after another, they took the floor to let Holiefield — who was there to convince workers AWS was a good thing — know that being forced to work every weekend would disrupt their family and social lives. Others argued that being forced to work Saturday for straight time was rolling back what past generations of unionists had fought for.

These hours are an attack on the eight-hour day and the weekend. As far back as 1937, the United Auto Workers won time-and-a-half pay after eight hours. The union later won premium pay for Saturday and Sunday.

This was taken away as one of many concessions imposed during the 2009 Chrysler bankruptcy, under the terms of the U.S. government bailout. These concessions were extended under the 2011-2015 agreement between the UAW and Chrysler.

With time-and-a-half obligatory only after 40 hours, AWS is becoming widespread because the company gets 120 hours production from the three crews without paying any overtime or what used to be a 10 percent premium for the midnight shift. The traditional paid lunch that workers got on a three-shift operation is eliminated and there are fewer minutes of paid relief time, so the company gets more production out of the workers.

The real-life examples of what this means for families explodes the notion that there is some kind of “partnership” between the company and its workers. The company doesn’t care about the single mother who has to find child care to cover the time spent riding a bus to work, working from 4:00 p.m. until 2:30 a.m., and then waiting for and riding the bus home in the wee hours of the morning. Divorced fathers who have weekend custody of their children, parents who will miss all their kids’ sporting events, and workers who transferred from out-of-state plants who commute home on weekends to be with their families are all upset about the new schedule, set to begin March 11.

Despite widespread rumors that they could be fired for protesting or speaking to the media, several dozen Warren Stamping workers demonstrated outside the plant on Feb. 28. Among many homemade signs was a cartoon depicting Chrysler and parent company Fiat burying the UAW, and saying AWS stood for “All Workers Screwed.”

The day after the protest, Chrysler indefinitely suspended Alex Wassell, one of the organizers, on bogus charges around vague statements allegedly made to the media. Wassell is a 20-year employee with no disciplinary history. Rank-and-file auto workers around the country have rallied to his defense, building campaigns in Chrysler, Ford and General Motors plants to flood Chrysler with calls demanding this solid union brother be reinstated immediately.

Martha Grevatt is a 25-year Chrysler UAW worker who currently works at Warren Stamping.