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Chrysler Firing Worker Activists

[ 54 ] March 14, 2013 |

In case anyone thinks that companies aren’t very excited about the evisceration of unions and labor regulations so that they can go back to pre-1935 ways of dealing with workers, let’s take a quick look at Chrysler. The recently bailed out auto company has instituted a 10-hour day that includes Saturday work and the switching of workers from day to evening shift and back. This cuts back on lunch breaks and eliminates overtime pay on Saturdays. This is a pretty awful way to work. UAW Local 869 has fought back. Alex Wassell has led the fight against this, including writing articles publicizing it and leading a picking line.

Chrysler has now fired Wassell, a man with a 20 year record of unblemished work. Why?

The company claimed Wassell had violated one of its “standards of conduct”: “engaging in, participating in, aiding or approving conduct constituting or appearing to constitute a conflict with the interests of the Company.”

In other words, we fire you because we can and who’s going to stop us?

It’s possible of course that the National Labor Relations Board could step in. But with the recess appointments declared unconstitutional by a conservative hack judge, who knows if the NLRB will remain functional long enough to decide this. Even if it does decide in Wassell’s favor, we are looking at months if not over a year. What is he to do during that time?

Chrysler is clearly intimidating its labor force.

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  • Cody

    constitute a conflict with the interests of the Company

    Doesn’t this rule literally just say you can’t be in a Union? Isn’t there whole job to not be in the interest of the company, but of the workers.

    • That is clearly the upshot of it. And firing people for union membership is obviously what corporations aim to do, if they can get around the law.

    • Medrawt

      As stated and applied that seems to be how they interpret it. It’s insane. Broadly enough interpreted it also seems like the sort of clause that could be used to justify firing people for the contents of their Facebook profile, etc.

      • Bill Murray

        or whistleblowing

    • Loud Liberal

      I don’t think the interests of workers and capitalists are mutually exclusive. A happy, satisfied, worker is bound to be more productive in many respects.

      Having said that, I studied labor law, the NLRA and NLRB in law school, but, never practiced in that area. It seems all of the protections that organized labor enjoyed under the NLRA at one time are now gone. What happened? None of the outrageous abuses I read about today would have occurred at all, much less succeeded, 25 years ago.

      • Linnaeus

        Begin with the Powell Memo. The problem stretches back farther than that, but it’s a good illustration of the general political program of American corporations that has, as one of its objectives, weakening institutions like the NLRB.

        • Loud Liberal

          Thanks!

      • DrDick

        What happened? Reagan happened.

        • Loud Liberal

          I understand that Ronald Reagan was the initiating agent of the deregulation and “captured regulator” movement. I was asking for specifics which Linnaeus kindly provided a link to.

      • Barry

        Loud Liberal says:

        “I don’t think the interests of workers and capitalists are mutually exclusive. A happy, satisfied, worker is bound to be more productive in many respects.”

        First, many in higher management won’t see it that way. Second, in many cases it might not be true – you can get a lot of productivity out of unhappy, dissatisfied people. Third, if what you say is true, but higher management doesn’t believe it, you are screwed.

        • DrDick

          It also assumes that what management is interested in is maximum productivity, rather than maximum rents.

  • Linnaeus

    This is taking place at my dad’s plant (well, former plant, since he’s been retired for about 10 years) and 869 is my dad’s local. I should ask him if he knows anything more about this, although his connections are less robust than they used to be because a lot of them have retired, too.

    • Hogan

      Please ask him if that “standard of conduct” appears anywhere in the collective bargaining agreement. I can’t imagine a UAW local accepting that as grounds for summary dismissal.

      • Linnaeus

        I’ll ask, but like you, I have a very hard time believing that any local would accept that as well. I’m guessing Chrysler is feeling emboldened by the attacks on labor going on in Michigan.

        • Stringer

          A 20 year UAW member fired without a peep from the Union. It sounds like the local wanted him gone too.

          • Linnaeus

            I can’t say for certain that that’s not true, but he and the local might be filing a grievance, and those things can’t be played out publicly.

      • Ian

        If “standard of conduct” is not in the collective bargaining agreement, isn’t that violation legal grounds for an immediate strike?

        • Hogan

          It’s contractual grounds for a grievance, but I’m pretty sure it’s not legal grounds for a strike.

          • Linnaeus

            I know our local’s CBAs routinely had a no strike/no lockout clause that was effective for the duration of the contract. That’s pretty typical practice.

            • Hogan

              Mine too.

          • Richard

            Depends on what the CBA says but its highly, highly unlikely that this would be grounds for a strike (much less an immediate strike)

            • Rhino

              Might easily result in a wobble, though. And probably should.

  • c u n d gulag

    Why is it that I’m not at all surprised at this?

    Desperate workers, in a devastated, but glacially-slow recovering economy, wanting to hang onto their jobs, no matter what.

    If the NLRB can’t do anything about this, how about OSHA?
    Aren’t there likely to be more accidents, and more severe accidents, during 10-hour shifts, as opposed to 8-hour ones?
    Surely there must be some statistics about this – since I seem to remember reading about the years ago.

    If this can’t be a “labor” issue, why not make it into a “safety” one?

    Or, am I, unsurprisingly, missing something?

    • rea

      Much more dangerous than the 10 hr. day is the shifting of people back and forth from day shift to night shift-apparently the rule is 2 weeks on day shift followed by two weeks on night shift, then back to day shift, etc., ensuring that the workforce spends most of their time with their sleep cycles screwed up. Companies shouldn’t treat their workers in a way that would violate the Geneva Conventions if used on POWS.

      • Pooh

        Is this just them being dickish because they can be? Wouldn’t yanking shifts around screw up productivity, or do they think that breaking up working groups is worth the disruption?

        • BigHank53

          The thinking is that the loss to quality will be made up for with the labor “savings”. Remind me to look up what models this factory is building; I don’t even want to rent one.

          • Linnaeus

            Remind me to look up what models this factory is building; I don’t even want to rent one.

            It’s a stamping plant, so it produces hoods, liftgates, quarter panels, etc. that get sent to assembly plants. Warren Stamping makes these for Chrysler’s minivans, Jeep Grand Cherokees, and Ram pickup trucks.

        • c u n d gulag

          rea,
          How right you are!
          I remember when I was a Trainer in a telecommunications company, and the upper management decided, in their “infinite wisdom,” to train according to the schedules that people will work.
          In theory, a good idea.
          But not in practice.
          Trainees were often leaving jobs that were 8-5 jobs, or coming back from being unemployed, and now, instead of having a 4 to 6 weeks to mentally adjust, and find child-care, or take care of other affairs, were thrust into Noon-9 training – or, worse, 3-Midnight, or overnight training classes.

          I was often exhausted, shifting from one shift to another.
          And the trainees were too exhausted to really pick-up on a lot of what they needed to know to do their jobs adequately.
          A lot of people dropped out.

          And then, no matter what shift I was on, if there was a Training Department meeting, they always held it at 8am, when it was convenient for the management, and NOT the trainers.
          And I lived in a different part of the state, so, after working until midnight, doing my reports, before finally getting home at 1am, I had to wake-up at 4 to shower, and hit the road by 5, so I wouldn’t be late because of traffic.

          There were plenty of days when I had very little sleep, and many when I had no sleep at all.

          And I was a trainer, so didn’t have to do any heavy lifting, or skilled work with dangerous tools.

          This is really stupid, and only being done, “BECAUSE WE CAN – SO F*CK OFF!!!”

      • I seem to remember this being implicated in the Three Mile Island fiasco.

      • DrDick

        That is a recipe for disaster. Their workers’ comp claims are going to skyrocket, and there are a lot of empirical studies to demonstrate that.

        • c u n d gulag

          The main points are, that the company doesn’t care about the injuries/deaths, and they don’t care about the workers comp claims.

          They’re doing it because they can.
          And that’s it’s more cost-efficient, than worrying about the consequences.

  • Pooh

    Next, people get fired for asking that they be paid regularly and in full, since those disbursements conflict with corporate goals.

    • arguingwithsignposts

      I’m not even laughing, because that really is probably their ultimate goal.

    • DrDick

      New boss, same as the old boss.

  • Mary McHugh

    Under a ridiculous line of authority dating back the the Reagan era NLRB, the NLRB is limited in its ability to handle this case anyway. The practice, instead, is to defer to the grievance and arbitration process. Last year, the NLRB General Counsel, Lafe Solomon, issued a memorandum limiting the deferral policy at least for cases alleging retaliation for exercising protected rights where the grievance and arbitration machinery is operating too slowly. It’s not a lot, but it’s better than the old policy which wouldn’t touch the case until the grievance and arbitration process had run it’s course, sometimes until years later (and then would review the arbitrator’s decision under a very deferrential standard).

  • Joshua

    The thing about forcing workers to regularly switch from day to night shifts just strikes me as insanely cruel. One summer I was doing night shifts at a store and working retail during the day part-time and kind of alternatinf between the two as needed. The switches were extremely difficult, and this was for a 22 year old doing part time work.

    I can’t even think of a good reason for it, all you will end up with is a mentally shattered workforce, to say nothing of the destruction of family life it will bring. The CEOs and top management wouldn’t last a month and they are just sitting at a desk.

    Well, American workers have long said that unions are irrelevant because of the protections and workplace they fought for previously, we are soon going to see how tenuous those protections are.

    • Barry

      “I can’t even think of a good reason for it, all you will end up with is a mentally shattered workforce, to say nothing of the destruction of family life it will bring. The CEOs and top management wouldn’t last a month and they are just sitting at a desk.”

      Hmmmmmmmm…………workers will tend to quit, especially those with options, and poor submission skills. The ones who stay will be desperate and have very poor alternatives.

      I can see the attractiveness. To management.

    • BigHank53

      Ten years old, but this is sadly exemplary of how crappy factory jobs can be.

      • Sev

        that was a fine series of articles, NYT at its best.

    • TribalistMeathead

      My fiancee ended up taking a promotion she didn’t particularly want (and really doesn’t want now) because they were getting ready to tell all the employees at her level that they were going to start moving their shifts around.

  • stickler

    Nobody seems to have mentioned another compelling reason the UAW hasn’t been more active in opposing this stuff:

    Through the VEBA agreements that saved Chrysler and GM, doesn’t the UAW now own a big chunk of Chrysler? Or am I mis-remembering the facts?

    Because if I’m right, that means the UAW is both labor AND management (or at least, ownership). That’s inevitably going to lead to problematic situations like this.

    • IM

      But that is straightforward misuse of an clause intended to avoid conflicts of interests to suppress union activity.

      If the union can’t act in this clear case, what useful function is left?

    • Linnaeus

      Through the VEBA agreements that saved Chrysler and GM, doesn’t the UAW now own a big chunk of Chrysler? Or am I mis-remembering the facts?

      The UAW does, but they’re in negotiations with Chrysler about the company buying back the UAW’s stake.

      • stickler

        Ugh. That doesn’t seem to make the conflict of interest situation any better.

        • Linnaeus

          It’s a sticky wicket, to be sure. I think the UAW would like to divest itself of its ownership of the company, but it has to make sure the VEBA trust is funded adequately. Not an easy situation to be in.

  • Tyro

    “Chrysler” did not fire Wassell. An individual manager made the decision to do so and followed through on that decision in collaboration with the members of HR. Why don’t they let us know who this person was, and why isn’t he publicly acknowledging his role in making that decision and why?

  • ironic irony

    Working our way back to slavery in the good ole US of A.

    Germany, can I stay?

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  • Kurzleg

    On the lighter side, this development – perhaps inevitable – makes it ever more likely that “Fuckin’ Chrysler plant, here I come” becomes anachronistic. A pity, really.

  • Can’t say…

    I worked with Alex at warren stamping. This guy would be a much more positive voice for us than our sell-out union. Leadership….yes i said sell-out . At present were told how thankfull we should be to have a job….really? This is what my Union dues get me? I feel like im getting short changed….oh wait…we are…

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