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I was cheap before cheap was cool. Even though I worked 12 hour days mostly 7 days per week, and made as much as a vice president at Procter and Gamble, even though I was just a foreman, I didn’t spend any money. This was quite different that most of the people that I worked with.
Oh, yes. Tightass. Cheap SOB. These were things I was called often. Most of the people I worked with spent, to put it mildly, lavishly. I had guys working for me that could barely scrawl their names, and they were making as much as a lawyer. Of course to do it they worked 7 days per week, many of them 12 hour days. I do not begrudge these people that money, because Ford treated people like prisinors, and they deserved every penny, and more, just for putting up with Ford’s crap.
But it is what they did with the money, and what I did with the money, that is central to this blog. They bought new cars every year. They took cruises. They bought houses, then bigger houses, then bigger houses still. They thought nothing of blowing a couple hundred bucks on a night out with the boys. Many of them, no matter how much money they made, spent every dime, and went into debt.
The classic was the guy who worked in the press room, dept 250. He was a hillbilly with about a 7th grade education. He owned a new Lincoln, an F150, a camper, an airplane, and a boat. Of course he never got to enjoy much of them, because to pay for them he worked Sundays, holidays, and if no OT was available, would work, illegally, in other departments, out of classification, on OT. When the whole thing collapsed in 1979 he went around the plant begging people “take over payments on my airplane, take over payments on my $400,000 house” But of course we were all losing our jobs because the party was over, and he lost everything. Nobody had any money to take over payments of anything. They were already deep in hock. They thought the party was going to last forever.
I, on the other hand, would not give up a dime if you tried to pry it out of my fingers with a crowbar. You might call me a cheap bastard. But ones attitude toward money is impacted greatly by how they were raised.
For example, when I was growing up, my dream of extreme luxury was a house with indoor plumbing. I got two pair of pants and two shirts a year. At Christmas. That was my Christmas present. We lived in a four room tarpaper shack. I dug coal with a pick and shovel with my Dad in worked out coal mines to earn a living. I know, personally, what “You load 16 tons and watta you get” is all about.
So by the time I got to Ford, I owned a nice home, had a nice car, provided well for my family, and that is all we needed. I did not want a new car every year, a bigger house, a closet full of clothes. None of that was important to me. What was important was escaping from the economic bondage imposed by the American Corporation. Not just Ford. EVERY American corporation.
They give you a job that is not really a job. It is a game. They way it is played is kiss up to the right people. Manipulate the right people. Work your way into the power structure, and the corporation will reward you. Well, sorry, but that is not my idea of “working a job.” So I used my money to escape from economic bondage so I could be free and call my own shots in life.
So I budgeted like I was on welfare and stuck every penny into investments. Where I was going in life was important to me, not how much I could consume while the party was in full force. So I brownbagged it. In all my years at Ford, I never spend nickol one on lunch. I grew most of my own vegetables in the back yard, canned and froze, and rarely had to buy veggies. I bought a wood burning stove, cut and split my own wood, and CG&E got very little of my money.
My wife cut everybody’s hair, and she made most of our clothes. We taught our kids the difference between what they want and what they need, and that they were being manipulated into buying things that they did not need, and contributed very little to their happiness. We lived a spartan life. Where did it get us?
Here is where it got us. I paid off my mortagage, and had no other debts. I paid cash for a large farm in Clermont County. That was 31 years ago. That farm is now worth more than a Ford worker’s entire pension will be, after 30 years on the job, and it has provided a nice income to me for 31 years.
I had a college fund for each of my children that paid their way through college, and they did not have to borrow any money. Then my wife and I started out own business. We have run it now for 24 years. We have everything that we need, and not a penny in debt.
So that is how I escaped from Corporate Bondage at the Sharonville Transmission Plant. True, the guys I worked with got enjoyment from spending all that money. But my enjoyment is longer lasting, and the stuff they spent their money on is long gone. Would I do it all over again? You’re damn right I would.
Ford Motor Company brags about not taking a government bailout. But this is as deceptive as their advertising about “good quality.” Ford had quality that was an international disgrace. They hired Dr. W . Edwards Deming, a renowned quality expert to help them build quality cars. But he walked out in disgust and called top management at Ford “the worst he had ever seen.”
Then Ford paid Toyota consultants to advise them on building quality vehicles. But this took time. Years, in fact. People were being burned to death in rear end collisions in Fords. People were being run over by defective Ford transmissions. American car buyers were abandoning Ford in droves to purchase reliable, quality cars, such as Toyotas, Hondas, and VWs. Ford showrooms were empty, they were packed with inventory they could not sell, and Toyota and VW dealers were simply taking orders. At one point there was a two month wait to buy a VW. Ford Motor Company became the only corporation in history to be charged with reckless homicide.
Then the government issued the largest recall in automotive history to Ford Motor Company, recalling 23,000,000 vehicles for defective transmissions that killed 200 people and injured more than 1400. We were just pulling out of a severe recession, and President Reagan had just been sworn in.
The CEO of Ford went to Reagan and said if you make us recall virtually every Ford on the road, we will have to file bankruptcy. No company can withstand the recall and repair of 23,000,000 vehicles.
President Reagan did not want to go down in history as the president who took down Ford Motor Company. At the time it looked like Chrysler would also file bankruptcy. Reagan revoked the authority of the federal government to issue mandatory recalls. They could issue “safety advisories” but not recalls. Instead, Ford agreed to mail out, via U.S. Mail, 23,000,000 stickers to put on Ford dashboards warning people that the transmissions in their cars could cause injury or death.
I worked at the transmission plant that made many of the faulty transmissions, with the full knowledge of top management at Ford. When people were burned to death and killed by cars jumping into reverse, I decided to one day write a book about how those transmissions were made, and how Ford runs auto plants. A Savage Factory is now on the market. I am amused, but hardly surprised, that Ford continues to be one of the most deceptive American corporations by bragging about not taking a government bailout, when, in fact they would have been bankrupt 35 years ago if the government had not ignored horrible deaths and injuries and bailed out Ford from its own incompetent management.
Working at Ford took a human toll on employees and their families. It was probably similar to being in prison, although I have never been in prison, so I cannot speak from experience. Employees were dehumanized, regimented, and treated like prisoners. The plant never shut down, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Easter, July 4th, Thanksgiving, Christmas were just working days. You made enough money to choke a horse, but it did not make up for the human toll it took on you, your kids, your wife, and your community.
I was told by an hourly man when I started at Ford that “If you stay here long enough, you will end up at Rollmans. Sooner or later every Foreman ends up at Rollmans.” Since I did not know what Rollmans was, it meant nothing to me. But I found out when I almost had a nervous breakdown and ended up at Rollmans, as predicted.
Rollmans was a psychiatric hospital. There was a revolving door for auto workers. You got excellent treatment, and Ford paid for it. So did GM (Norwood Assembly Plant, Fairfield Stamping Plant) as well as Chrysler (Dayton Radiator Plant). Strangely enough, Rollmans closed after all the auto plants mismanaged themselves out of business. The last days of Rollman’s Psychiatric Hospital coinsided with the last days of Ford’s Batavia Transmission Plant.
First Ford’s Fairfax Transmission Plant bit the dust. That was followed by GMs Fairfield Stamping Plant. Rollmans laid off staff. Then GM shut down the Norwood Assembly Plant, and local hospitals recruited doctors from Rollmans. Ford cut the Sharonville Transmission Plant from 5400 employees to 1800, and announced that the Batavia Transmission Plant would be closed. That is when Rollmans announced that it would close the hospital and sell off the land to a developer. Without the hordes of employees from the auto industry, Rollmans had lost so much business it could no longer operate. The land where Rollmans was located is now called the Rollman Estate, and has $500,000 mcmansions sitting where auto workers used to recover from the punishment of working at Ford.
Working conditions at Ford were best summarized to me by a Jew. He had a tatoo number on his forearm from being in a Nazi concentration camp. He was one of the lucky ones that was still alive when the Russians liberated Auschwitz. One day he came to me and asked me if I knew what the difference was between being in a concentration camp and working at Ford. I was all ears. He said three things: At Ford they don’t throw you in ovens, and you can leave anytime you want. You get paid. You are not starving. Other than that, there is no difference. You are treated the same as the SS treated people in the death camps.
So what effect did working at Ford have on people? Family breakdown, divorce, drug abuse, alcoholism. I never knew a General Foreman or Superintendent who had not been divorced at least once. Ron R. was on his fifth wife. He was 37. Everyone of the older General Foreman in Zone 3 had at least one stress induced heart attack. One woman who worked for me had been married to three of the same men in my department, was currently getting divorced from her four husband, and was living with a man who had been divorced twice, from another department.
But the kids suffered the most. They essentially had no fathers. No role models. Lots of money, though. Their parents tried to buy them off with things to make up for never being there for them.
But the most notable casualty of working conditions that I saw was the man who lived in a make believe world, doing what the little green men told him to do. The little green men rode on torque converters. No one else ever saw the little green men. Just him. Sometimes he would laugh hysterically, pointing at a torque converter, and, evidently, the little green man sitting on it that had told a funny.
But the day the little green men told him to pull down his coveralls, lay on the floor and masturbate was the most memorable. Men stopped their machines to bet on how many times he could masturbate. He laughed hysterically as he laid on the floor, doing what the little green men told him to do. It took about 20 minutes for the men from Rollman’s to arrive. They sedated him and hauled him to the hospital. Everyone went back to work. In a month he returned to his job. After a stint at Rollmans he did not see the little green men for a month or so. But then they would visit again. His face was intent, as he listened carefully to what they wanted him to do. Nobody paid any attention, unless he did something bizarre. It was just another day at the Sharonville Transmission Plant.
Ford does not mention the government bailout they received when they had the largest recall in automotive history. Had they not been able to get the Reagan Administration to pull strings behind the scenes, they would have been bankrupt in the early eighties.
The notoriously bad quality of Ford products came home to roost in the late seventies, when their transmissions jumped from “park” into “reverse” and ran over people getting stuff out of the trunk. Nearly 200 people were killed, and over 1400 were injured. According to the Wall Street Journal, Ford lawyers went into action to keep this problem out of the news, and paid over $20,000,000 in shutup money to relatives of Ford victums. But it was such a massive problem that even an army of Ford lawyers with open check books could not keep a lid on it.
I worked at the Sharonville Transmission Plant during the time that these defective transmissions were manufactured, and that was part of the motivation for me to write my book “A Savage Factory” about conditions in the plant, especially how those defective transmissions were built. Of course I had other motivations, also, such as how Ford treated people: employees and customers. I felt that you cannot run a company like it is still 1930, you cannot treat customers and employees like leftover garbage, and you cannot sell low quality products in a competitive global economy. I wanted people to see how the auto industry functioned so changes could be made and our most important manufacturing industry could be saved.
When stacks of complaints piled up in government offices about transmissions that were killing and injuring people, the Federal Government issued the largest recall in automotive history to Ford Motor Company: 23,000,000 vehicles were to be recalled for defective transmissions. Ford went to President Reagan and told him that if they had to recall and repair 23,000,000 defective cars, it would drive the company into bankruptcy. We were still recovering from the deepest recession since the Great Depression, and Ford was already losing billions of dollars. This recall would put an end to Ford Motor Company and cause hundreds of thousands to be unemployed at a time when Chrysler, because of their horrible quality, was also facing bankruptcy.
President Reagan, new in office, and facing the economic mess left by Jimmy Carter, had no intention of having his presidency forever marked by the bankruptcy of our auto industy. He did what any astute politician would do. He made a few phone calls. In a matter of days the Federal Government no longer had the authority to issue mandatory recalls. They could issue safety advisories. But they could no longer require companies to recall products.
Ford negotiated with the government, and got off the hook by agreeing to send out, via U.S. Mail, warning stickers to be placed on the dashboard of 23,000,000 defective Fords, warning that the transmissions could cause injury or death. I often wondered who would buy a car with a warning sticker saying that the transmission could cause injury or death. Apparently a whole lot of people, because Ford survived the largest recall in history, and, within a few years, was again earning billions.
I wondered how many times the government would be able to throw taxpayer money at a failed industry before they faced a taxpayer revolt. Now I am amused by Ford using, very effectively, the fact that they have not taken any governement money (yet) as a marketing ploy to steal customers from their struggling Detroit competitors. They fail to mention that they would have been out of business decades ago if the government had not given them a bailout at the expense of the safety of the American People.
Ford management was like a loosely knit pact among warring gangs. There was a never ending power struggle between production and quality control. When sales were strong, the only sin was not making quota, production managers were the unquestioned masters of the universe, and quality control managers were swept aside like crumbled potato chips from last night’s party.
But eventually the push for high production caused a rise in warranty defects. When a transmission failed before 12,000 miles or 12 months, Ford had to pay for repairs. That was the only REAL quality standard at Ford Motor Company: the level of warranty defects. When they went up, power shifted from production management to quality control management.
It was easy to tell when that power shift occurred. Quality Control supervisors strutted around like a bunch of cocky Adolph Hitlers after the fall of Paris. There was a new spring in their step. People actually paid attention when they wrote defect tags. They were actually somebody again.
Of course the problem was most of the parts produced did not meet specs, because Ford would not properly reapair machines, and bought the lowest price components on the market. Quality control inspectors tagged up basket after basket of parts, and they were hauled to the “Graveyard of rejected parts.” Machines were shut down and repaired. Men were called in on overtime to cull through junk components purchased from the lowest cost vendor. Soon warranty defects began to improve. Pressure began to increase for more production. That was when power shifted back to production managers.
Before long the front office was screaming for more production. But how could more be produced if machines were shut down to be properly repaired, and half the purchased components were culled out as bad parts?Easy. Engineering Deviations.
When production was needed, and only rejected parts were available, engineering was instructed to “rewrite” what is a good part and what is a “bad part.” All of a sudden, the Graveyard of Rejected Parts were no longer bad, reject tags were pulled off, and the show went on. Quality control managers reverted back to looking liked whipped puppies. They had been castrated. Again. After all, it would be months before warranty defects rose again, pressure would come down to build better quality, and their power base would be restored.
There were times when it almost came to blows. The most outrageous near rumble that I experienced was in department 258, Torque Converters. Actually, the problem was in department 285, Cover Plates. The 4 studs were out of square on the cover plates. When the cover plates were welded into the torque converter, the studs did not match up with the holes to be assembled into the finished transmission. This caused vibrations in the transmission, and was a major defect.
QC isolated the problem. The stud squareness gage in 285 could not be found. It was later learned that the inspector had thrown it down the scrap chute. What was the point of gaging squareness, he said, because when he rejected cover plates, they were used anyway. So he did not bother to check squareness, pitched the gage, put his feet up leaned back, and read his Playboy. Sometimes he made a makeshift bed out of discarded cardboard, put it on top of a commode, latched the door on the stall, and grabbed a few zzzz’s in the men’s room.
Back to 258, where QC and production were eyeball to eyeball over torque converters with out of square cover plates. QC said I am going to reject the whole batch. Production said you CAN’T reject the whole batch, or assembly will go down. If assembly goes down, four Ford plants in four states goes down. Oh yeh? Watch me, said QC, as he wrote reject tags.
Bets were taken on who would throw the first blow. Most bet on QC because he was taller, younger, and more athletic, while production was a short, fat, old guy with a bulging vein in his forehead, shaking with anger, and red faced. I bet on QC. Lost the money. They never actually came to blows.
Production told me to shut the whole f%^*# department down and send the people home. We were not going to run bad converters. I did. Fifteen minutes later my manager came running down the aisle, waving a piece of paper, screaming for me to run to the parking lot and get my people back. We had an engineering deviation. The converters had turned from bad converters that would cause transmission vibration to good converters with the stroke of a pen.
I ran as fast as I could to the parking lot. But I could only get half my people back. The rest had already driven off Ford property. I had a letter of reprimand placed in my file for failure to run fast enough to get all my people back on the job. But I had a file of my own that Ford was not aware of.
My file contained copies of reject tags that had been overridden because of the need for production from departments all over the plant. It also contained copies of engineering deviations that mysteriously changed bad parts into good parts with the stroke of a pen. I also made a copy of the report that detailed the missing stud squareness gage in department 285, where out of square cover plates had been run for an unknown period of time.
It was just another shift at the Sharonville Transmission Plant. And another additon to my massive files on quality standards at Ford Motor Company.