Saturday, April 4, 2015

Working Against My Conscious

The fallout from the discrimination bill in Indiana is delicious. Some of the comments left on news blogs and sites are so ludicrous. The one phrase that is repeated over and over is to the tune of, “People should not have to work against their conscious.”
This had me thinking back nearly 35 years to the defining incident that forever altered my worldview in regards to my rights as a worker, and my attitude towards my employer.
To greatly simplify matters, I was in a position on the supply line to where I was forced to run my machine using out of spec parts which resulted in much frustration for myself and my coworkers. It also resulted in mountains of scrap.
This happened fairly early in my GM career when I was still in the “I want to make the best quality I can” phase. I was making waves to correct this situation through the UAW, Quality Control, and any outlet I could think of. Remember Sally Field when she was “Norma Ray” fighting against the bad factory system? I kind of related my battle to hers.
Being a watchmaker, perhaps I had more of an appreciation of quality than the average GM worker. To make substandard units and scrap really galled at me. I was eventually told by those in control that I was to work according to GM’s “Company policy on parts”: “Every part in the system has been inspected. Defective parts do not exist.”
I made a visit to the NYS Labor Relations Bureau in Buffalo on my own initiative to investigate if I might have some form of recourse. I was told by this labor lawyer that the GM parts policy broke no health or safety laws. If I was so upset over it all, perhaps I should quit.
I realized I had three options to work with.
  1. I could throw a righteous fit, quit my job, leave in style, and have the satisfaction I was right. No, that option was not open to me. Common sense told me I would never be able to replace the wages and benefits I was currently earning.
  2. I could keep trying to change the parts situation and maybe be successful. Again my common sense kicked in. The constant harassment from management, plus my being worked up all the time had me on the verge of developing an ulcer. Just going into work I was so agitated, my stomach was in constant turmoil, while my head was pounding.This situation consumed my life. I was not a happy person anymore. It would only be a matter of time before charges could be trumped up against me which would result my being fired. It took a bit, but I voted this as a “No”.
  3. I could work according to the GM policy on parts and let the cards fall where they may. I took door #3.
From then on I worked according to this policy on parts. It was hard for me to not care as I made pallet after pallet of defective units. The guys who handled this scrap were always bitching at me. I told them to complain to supervision to change things, I was just doing my job. I learned it how really liberating it was to not give a shit.
As time progressed it got easier and easier. I never inspected a part again. I gave up control of my body to GM for my allotted shift. They never would have my mind again. I learned to just laugh at the ridiculousness of the factory. My tension/stress level went from “off the charts” to “non-existent”,
My social life was built outside of the factory. This was the life whereby I found meaning and self worth. I always stayed on good terms with my co-workers, but they were never the fabric of my “inner circle” of friends. They were more in the category of “close acquaintances”.
So many of the principals of that influential “life drama” are dead now. I’m kind of sorry now I never took the opportunity to thank them. I went through Hell when it all was going on, but I emerged a stronger person who learned how to focus on living life to the fullest, and planning for retirement. The second I hit my “30 years and out” I was leaving.
In a round-a-bout way, it is those bastards I owe my present financial and health status to. Through them I learned what was important in life. Trust me; it was not making a perfect evaporator core. There have only been a few incidents since that time where I let GM get my blood pressure up. Usually I could keep things in check.
I was chatting years after that initial incident occurred with Charlie, an old foreman of mine who was involved in the management side of that “quality of parts mess”. The conversation ended as follows:
Charlie: Jim, remember when you were having that problem with bad parts on the clincher? You knew those parts were out of spec didn’t you?
Jamie: I learned my lesson Charlie. For as long as I work for this company, I will never, ever, question the integrity of any part within the system again.
The look on his face was priceless. It was a combination of deer in the headlights / horror. He could not leave fast enough.
I worked against my conscious in regards to quality, and money. God only knows the number of evaporator cores that failed in service due to those shitty parts, or how much those mountains of scrap eventually cost GM. GM did not give a “Rat’s Ass”: I learned neither should I.

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Tuscaloosa, Alabama, United States
Retired auto worker who can now spend too much time restoring his 1922 Bungalow Home. I'm involved in a number of varied activities from collecting bricks to rowing with a masters rowing group. This blog is to share different aspects of my life on my Facebook page. I've kept an on-line journal for eight years.