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Update on Jeep tragedy inToledo

"Productivity at any Cost?
Jeep workers question DaimlerChrysler’s vision in the aftermath of tragedy"
Michael Brooks
Toledo City Paper

The shotgun-wielding Myles Meyers killed a fellow Jeep employee and wounded two others before turning the weapon on himself on Jan. 27. One view: Just another crazed American worker shooting up his workplace.
Dieter Zetsche, CEO of DaimlerChrysler, reiterated this assessment in a plant-wide memorandum distributed on Jan. 28.
“All information indicates this was an isolated incident,” he said. Jeep workers, however, say that Meyers’ outburst was not isolated and was the culmination of systematic harassment by management that took place throughout many months. Many workers are afraid of the consequences of speaking out about what they feel is a climate of intimidation at Toledo North. Most workers would talk only under a guarantee of complete anonymity.
“You’re not wearing a wire, are you?” asked a suspicious worker. “How do I know you’re not hired by management?”
“They have been obsessed with firing Myles for months,” said ‘Karl,’ whose name has been changed out of fear that his participation in this article will lead to retaliation.
“This is a part of their campaign to eliminate the higher-paid, older workers — especially activists who want a stronger union — and to replace them with younger, cheaper new hires.”
In a September 1, 2004 speech to auto executives at the annual Auto Tech conference in Detroit, DaimlerChrysler’s Zetsche told his audience that the current era of global markets has created a new manufacturing paradigm: “It’s adapt or die.”

The real Myles Meyers The unfavorable portrait of Meyers depicted in the mainstream media as a substance-abusing, unstable maniac is difficult to balance against the images presented by some of the people who knew him best: employees of Jeep’s Toledo North second-shift body shop.

Myles Meyers on a fishing trip in 2001.
Juan Garza, who left employment at DaimlerChrysler in December 2004, spoke highly of Meyers.
“He was a really cool guy; I had respect for him,” said Garza. “On the other hand, Myles was not afraid to speak his mind, and this is why some of the supervisors had it out for him. I just wish I had still been working; I keep thinking that maybe I could have talked him out of it, you know?”
“I talked to him on break almost every day,” said ‘Jay,’ a line worker. “He was a friendly guy and seemed to get along with everyone.”
‘Karl’ said that Meyers often talked about his family.
“He was bragging to me about an engagement ring he had just bought for his girlfriend,” he said. “And he never talked about himself — he would always boast about his kids and his family.”
‘ Karl’ spoke highly of Meyers’ work ethic.
“The guy was incredible — he had skills in welding, brazing, repair work, sheet metal finishing — you name it,” he said. “He was a go-to guy; he would always bail out the company when they were in a fix.”
Windau recounted an incident when Meyers rose to the occasion.
“A supplier sent us some defective bodysides with hairline cracks that did not get spotted until the vehicles had been built,” he said. “We’re talking hundreds of defective vehicles and millions of dollars of inventory,” adding that Meyers’ extensive skills made him especially qualified for the task of repairing those vehicles. “Myles helped save that
whole mess.”
‘Marty’ spoke of Meyers’ selflessness.
“He was always the guy collecting for the United Way or being the point-man for the charitable fundraisers,” he said. “He was a good man.”
Bob Worthington, a production worker who had worked with Meyers for many years, said that Meyers was an excellent employee whose work was beyond reproach.
“He was the last person I would ever expect to react this way,” he said. “I was sad that he felt he had no other choice.”
Meyers may have come to the attention of management because he was an outspoken advocate against what many workers feel is an attempt by DaimlerChrysler to eliminate the higher-paid positions, which are often held by older workers.
Yang agreed with this assessment.
“For example, one way lean production eliminates “waste” is by attacking the seniority system, pitting old-time workers against the younger ones,” he said. “The former views the younger temporary workers as ‘scabs’ while the newer workers resent the old guard for getting better paid and being hostile to them.”
“Myles understood that the company would love to have only one category of worker: low wage, jack of all trades, and master of none,” said Windau,
citing the company’s record of forcing workers to perform work outside of their job descriptions. Employees who refuse, according to many workers, face disciplinary action up to and including termination.

A long history of friction

While no large employer is free from tension in the workplace, many Jeep employees feel that the situation at Toledo North is particularly volatile.
In a prepared statement, company spokesperson Ed Saenz said that “DaimlerChrysler declines the opportunity to comment on your article.” When asked if there was anything else that DaimlerChrysler would like to say to the readers of City Paper, Saenz merely repeated his one-sentence prepared response.
“These managers are under huge pressure to constantly improve productivity,” said ‘Karl.’ “This is Daimler-Chrysler’s flagship plant, and Dieter (CEO Dieter Zetsche) is breathing fire down the necks of plant managers to cut costs and build more vehicles.”
It was this drive for profits that caused DaimlerChrysler to drastically reduce the number of employees after the move from the old facility on Jeep Parkway to the new Toledo North plant. The jobs of 1,400 hourly workers were eliminated in the transition, while DaimlerChrysler re-ceived an estimated $281 million in tax breaks for keeping the new plant in Toledo. The State of Ohio kicked in another $117 million last year in a deal where the automaker agreed to build a new production park in Toledo with three suppliers.
Moreover, the 2001 restructuring plan announced by DaimlerChrysler to stave off North American losses, called for a total workforce cut of 26,000 jobs during a three-year period, including 6,800 salaried jobs and 19,000 hourly workers.
Millwright George Windau said that Roy Thacker, the supervisor shot and killed by Meyers, was himself terminated after the Daimler-Benz merger with Chrysler.
“Roy had to sue to get his job back because they targeted the older supervisors,” he said, referencing a 2002 lawsuit pursued by attorney Geoffrey Feiger on behalf of 13 supervisory position personnel, which was filed in Federal District Court naming DaimlerChrysler as the defendant. Thacker later agreed to take his case to binding arbitration and was eventually brought back to work.
“You can’t even take a water bottle to your work station,” said a millwright. “Try working in the summer heat without water.” According to workers, food, drinks and personal items are now forbidden at work stations.
“At the old plant, guys would have on headphones, or keep a radio nearby to make things more tolerable,” said Phil. “Sometimes you would see people singing or smiling while they worked. Now, there’s nothing but factory noise for 10 or 12 hours.”
Several workers described a room near Labor Relations in the plant, where injured workers are sent.
“They don’t want to pay the (state administered worker’s compensation benefits) or have OSHA [Occupational Safety & Health Administration] investigate, so many injured workers are forced to work jobs where they can sit,” said ‘Jerry.’ “If they are too hurt to do any work, they have to sit in this room with nothing in it. They aren’t even allowed to talk to the other injured workers,” he said, adding that injured workers are told “you are not here to talk.”
Another source of friction for Jeep workers is DaimlerChrysler’s policy of mandatory overtime — employees must put in 10- to 12-hour days, six days a week.
“The mandatory overtime began right after all those workers were laid off,” said “Marty,” a production worker. “It doesn’t take a genius to make the connection between the layoffs and the overtime.”
Workers are also unhappy about the company’s increasing use of temporary part-time workers (TPTs), who work three-day workweeks and are eligible for few benefits.
“These workers get the possibility of full-time employment dangled in front of them, and they are pressured into working like maniacs,” said “Kevin,” a production worker. “Plus, if an older worker
goes on sick leave, his job is covered by TPTs. When the worker gets back, he’s expected to perform at the level
of two gung-ho part-timers who each have four days to rest up from their overexertions.”
Shari Plewa, a production worker at the Wrangler plant, agreed with this sentiment.
“There are TPTs who are working five-day workweeks, “she said. “What’s worse is the union allows them to be used like that. They get no benefits, have no representation and get laid off whenever they are not needed. Sometimes they are called into work, and the company will tell them ‘sorry, we have all the spots filled.’ Then these poor folks go home with nothing.”
Most of the interviewed workers said work rules in the new plant are very different from those of the plant on Jeep Parkway.
The industrial buzzwords for the DaimlerChrysler’s manufacturing philosophy — such as “lean production” and “continuous improvement” — have a different name for many of the people who work at Toledo North.
“A better term would be ‘management by stress’,” said “Phil.” “Plant managers keep pushing the limits on people and machines to get just a few more cars per hour. Whatever you did last week is never good enough this week.”
Manuel Yang, an instructor at University of Toledo who has published numerous scholarly articles concerning labor relations in the auto industry, described the new philosophy as “a method of how to make the average
worker work faster, harder and more intensively.”
“Lean production is one of corporate business management’s weapons in this concerted attack against workers across the world,” he said. “Needless to say,
workers suffocate under such intensified labor conditions, and understandably crack up under the stress, go mad, or take their guns to work, as it happened with Myles Meyers. “
‘Marty’ said that the company assu-mes that all people, like machines, have a uniform tolerance for stress.
“Take Tom Brady (New England Patriots quarterback) — cool-headed under incredible pressure and able to perform at a level that you or I would crack under,” he said. “He’s on one end of the scale, and the rest of us fall further down the line. Very few people can perform at high levels for extended periods
of time, and when pushed too hard for too long, something’s got to give.”
Many employees say that the extra work and increased stress have taken their toll in hidden ways: Illnesses, marital discord and suicides.
“The real tragedy with Myles is that most people believed that this type of incident was inevitable,” said ‘Marty.’ “It was just a matter of who would be the first to crack.”

Jeep management: targeted harassment?

Workers interviewed for this article referenced a climate of intimidation at Toledo North.
“ You wouldn’t believe the things they do to people,” ‘Johnny’ said. “If there is a person they want to get, they work on him every day until he quits or gets written up and fired.”
He recounted an incident that happened after he complained about being forced to do the work of another skilled tradesman.
“ The union steward warned me to watch my step — that I was being watched,” he said. “The steward knew about the surveillance in advance. Sure enough, supervisors began to stand in my work area, looking for things to write me
up for.”
The harassment didn’t stop “until they got sick of waiting for me to screw up,” he said.
Records obtained from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) reveal that numerous employees have filed complaints alleging that DaimlerChrysler retaliated against them for union activities. The complaints described suspensions, layoffs and terminations against employees who spoke out for their contractual rights.
Concern for retaliation extends be-yond the boundaries of the plant. Garza refused to relate his experiences, and
he was visibly disturbed by the possibility of reprecussions for those no longer employed.
“Things are so peaceful now,” he said. “I don’t want to take any chances by talking about what they’re doing to those workers.”
Plewa told of a similar incident.
“I was running low on parts, and it took a long time for inventory to arrive,” she said. “Finally the line shut down. Next thing I know, I was getting called into the office for a workmanship [disciplinary write-up for poor workmanship]. I had to threaten the union with a lawsuit to get them to defend me.”
‘Jay’ witnessed the constant harassment that DaimlerChrysler plant managers directed toward Meyers.
“For the last two months, Myles had at least one manager watching him the entire shift,” he said. “A female supervisor would even follow him to the bathroom at break and sniff his clothes to see if he had been smoking in the bathroom.” (Toledo North is a nonsmoking facility).

‘ I had to threaten the union with a lawsuit to get them to defend me.’
— Shari Plewa, production worker
‘ Karl’ also witnessed what seemed to be a pattern of coordinated persecution by management against Meyers.
“Supervisors would stand outside the welding tunnel, arms crossed and stare at Myles all shift,” he said. “If he asked for a restroom or cigarette break, they would ignore him, because they would get to write him up if he left the work area without tag relief (a worker assigned to fill in for breaks).”
‘Marty,’ who worked in Meyers’ area in December, spoke of even more pervasive harassment.
“They would direct workers to move welding screens when Myles went to lunch, or they would hide his tools — petty shit,” he said. “When Myles would come back, everything would be in the wrong place, and managers would yell at him because he couldn’t jump right back in.”
‘Karl’ witnessed something that particularly upset Meyers.
“A younger female supervisor was directed to hang these insulting signs in Myles’ work area, things with pictures that were so dumbed down as to be degrading,” he said, describing the signs as geared toward children. “Here was a man who had been building Jeeps longer than she had been alive and he’s being treated like he’s stupid!” Meyers was visibly angered at this incident, which occurred in late November.
‘Jerry’ said that a supervisor with whom he is friendly, told him that management had been warned weeks before the shooting, that Meyers was acting strangely.
“The supervisor told me that workers had overheard Myles saying that he was going to ‘get’ Toney and Thacker,” he said, referring to two of the victims, the late Roy Thacker and Mike Toney; also injured in the attack was Paul Medlen.
“It didn’t have to be this way,” said Windau. “I had great respect for Roy Thacker.”

UAW – brothers in arms?

One of the most common worker complaints in these interviews is that the UAW no longer adequately serves its Local 12 members.
“ I was accused of causing the line to stop, which I didn’t do” said ‘Larry,’ a production worker. “The supervisor took me back to Labor Relations, and a union steward finally showed up,” he said. “During the meeting, the steward didn’t say a goddamn word. He just sat there and played with papers. I was only saved from being written up because a team leader finally stuck up for me.”
Plewa agreed.
“ When I was written up for shutting down the line,” she said, “including the union steward (in the disciplinary meeting) was like having another company person in the room.”
Bruce Baumhower, Local 12 president and Lloyd Mahaffey, Region 2-B president for the UAW, despite repeated phone calls, could not be reached as of press time.
A number of workers contacted for this article indicated that, while they are unhappy with the union, the UAW is still their voice.
“ If I participate in this story, I could be helping the company break up the union,” said a production worker who declined to reveal his name in print. “While the UAW has its problems, I will continue to support Dan Henneman and Mark Epley [Jeep unit chair and secretary-treasurer].”
The unprecedented eight-year contract ratified by union members in December 2003 is also a source of discontent, according to many workers.
“ We’ve supposedly had a contract for a year, but no one’s ever seen it,” said ‘Harold,’ a production worker. “They made us vote on something sight unseen.”
‘ Phil’ said that former Jeep unit chair Nick Vuich told them that there was no other choice, and that they had to take
the contract.
Skilled trade workers, who voted down the contract on the first ballot, later staged an election-night pro-test by marring and defacing the ballots, according to ‘Phil.’ Hundreds of skilled trade workers wrote “STRIKE” or “VOID” on the forms.
The relatioship between the UAW and Jeep employees has been rocky in recent years. The union is currently defending itself in federal court against a multimillion dollar lawsuit brought by 60 machine repairmen in 2002 filed in Federal District Court in Toledo. The suit alleges that the Union defendants (Local 12 and the international UAW), breached their duty of fair representation owed to the machinists, independent of the collective bargaining agreements.
A review of NLRB records filed during the last 13 months reveal a number of complaints alleging that the union has allowed DaimlerChrysler to fill out employee grievances. This completely subverts the normal process, where the union steward documents the employee grievance, according to Windau.
Yang believes that the relationship between the UAW and its members may be irreparable.
“ The only people who can make Jeep free, to prevent the tragedy of Myles Meyers from ever happening again, to make the union work for them and to reverse the dehumanizing effect of lean production, are the rank-and-file workers themselves,” he said. “Neither the media, government, union, management or anyone outside of Jeep employees are going to do it.”
State Senator Theresa Fedor agreed that lawmakers might play a role in the volatile relations between workers, the UAW and DaimlerChrysler.
“ I think there should be an investigation,” said Fedor. “It’s very unfortunate that someone feels that life is so hard
that they had to take drastic measures like that.”
State Representative Mark Wagoner did not rule out further investigation into the tragedy and the contributory factors that may have led to the shooting.
“ If the people of DaimlerChrysler and the UAW decide that it warrants an investigation, they should have that preogative,” said Wagoner.
Some workers say that retaliation by the company is not their only worry.
“ I’m more afraid of the union than DaimlerChrysler — look what they did to Cal,” said ‘Eric,’ a skilled tradesman. He referred to the April 2004 attack on the home of Jeep employee Calvin Buckmaster, where an unknown assailant heaved a brick with the letters ‘UAW’ scrawled on it, taped with five bullets. At the time, Buckmaster had raised questions about union expenditures and accounting practices. He refused to comment for this article other than to acknowledge that he had since transferred out of the plant to another DaimlerChrysler facility, due to concerns for his well-being.
“This is the price you pay for speaking out,” said ‘Bud', another skilled trades worker. “I don’t want to end up dead,
or have my f_ _ _ing house burned down. I’d love to tell you about the things that go on there, but I worry that my family will suffer.”"