– Robert J. Dewar is a former Ford Motor Company general foreman and author of A Savage Factory: An Eyewitness Account of the Auto Industry’s Self-Destruction. He currently lives in Cincinnati, OH and runs a successful packaging business with his wife and family. The views expressed are his own. –
The war in the auto plants never ended. It flared up and died down, but it never ceased. Management and labor circle each other like sumo wrestlers searching for an opening. Like any war, it ignores honesty, human dignity and common sense. Like any conflict, it leaves collateral damage.
As a supervisor at Ford Motor Company’s largest transmission plant, I fought on the front lines. Despite leaving the auto company many years ago, the factory skirmishes were a key factor in the industry’s disastrous decline in the 1980s, and likely continue to play a part in the failures of the industry today.
The factory foremen had one big gun: Form 4600. It was the stepwise disciplinary tool that could take an employee up the punitive ladder to termination. Many supervisors rose in the management ranks not because of job performance, but by virtue of their 4600 tally. The auto industry rewarded tyrants rather than qualified managers with integrity and an ability to successfully lead.
The UAW arsenal easily outgunned management. Production was sabotaged. Critical employees were absent when high production was most needed. Tools mysteriously disappeared. Bad quality was run purposely. The weakest, least desirable employees were protected with the full power of the labor contract. When management and the UAW stood eyeball to eyeball, management always backed down – they had too – productivity and profitability hung in the balance.