A lot of guys that I worked with at Ford’s Sharonville Transmission Plant have bought my book, read it, and then came back and wanted to know why didn’t I tell this or that. So I decided to do a blog on some of these experiences, since they shed further light on how Ford operated in the 1970s when they made, very possibly, the worst vehicles ever produced in America.
Lets start with Fords 75th anniversary celebration. Sharonville had an open house, as did all the Ford plants. We were going to give a souvenir to every one who attended. That souvenir was an ashtray that was stamped with “Ford Motor Company 75th Anniversary.” We got the die for the press room and started to run the ash trays. Then a rumor spread through the plant like a viral epidemic.
That rumor was that the ashtrays would become valuable collectables, and we were scheduled to run a limited number of them. After about four hours the foreman checked the count on ashtrays. There should have been about 2,000. The counter, in fact, said 1873. But the bin into which the ash trays were dropping out of the press was nearly empty. The foreman wanted to know where all the ash trays were.
The press operator shook his head and said “everybody and his brother is coming over, grabbing a handful of ashtrays and running like hell. I ain’t no policeman. I’m a press operator.” This information was immediately passed on to the Zone 3 superintendent, who instructed the foreman to stand by that press and “write up any son of a b#$%*& that even looks like he is going to steal an ashtray.” He then called in foremen from the next shift, on overtime, to stand guard over the ash trays. The ash trays were to be guarded, by foremen, 24 hours a day until the open house.
When I was called in early to stand guard, I got my cup of coffee, sat on a chair, and guarded the ash trays like a marine guard on the president’s helicopter. I did notice that periodically the press operator would pick up a couple ash trays, “check them for quality” and then stick them into his lunch pail. I said nothing, because I intended to check some of those ashtrays my self and just to be sure they were good, stick them in my lunch pail. That was when the superintendent showed up on his orange golf cart.
On the back of the cart he had a cardboard box. He nodded approvingly at the ash tray count, and the fact that I was vigilent in my guard responsibities. Then he scooped up enough ash trays to fill the cardboard box, mumbled something about doing quality checks, and sped off toward the parking lot. I abandoned my post, stalking him through the plant. I watched him carry the box of ashtrays to the trunk of his car.
Then there was the General Foreman who, in a burst of anger, punched a foreman. It was not much of a punch. More like a slap. The foreman fell to the floor, moaned, yelled “my back, my back, I can’t move. Oh my God, who turned out the lights? I can’t see. I can’t hear.” He was taken to the emergency room, where doctors could find nothing wrong with him. Nevertheless he insisted he was in agonizing pain, could not see, and could not hear. Four months later he was still on medical leave, drawing full salary. Then Ford made an undisclosed, but allegedly large, cash settlement, and the foreman “resigned.” A couple days later I saw him at the YMCA playing basketball.
Of course I will never forget the guy who tried to stab me. We had worked for 5 weeks without a day off. Everyone was totally stressed out and exhausted. Thanksgiving was coming up, and everyone knew we would be scheduled to work. But the day before the holiday my General Foreman informed me that we would be off for Thanksgiving. I cheerfully told each man in Department 258, and morale improved immensely. This would be the first holiday we had not been scheduled to work during 1977.
But then a half hour before the shift ended, my boss came out and said “Schedule your people to work Thanksgiving. Livonia can’t make the transmissions they were supposed to make, so we have to make them.” I went to each man and gave him the unwecome news. Some cursed. Some shook their heads. One man was eating an apple. he had a pen knife and was cutting slices off and eating each slice. When I told him he was scheduled to work on Thanksgiving the blood drained out of his face. His lips started to quiver. Then he said “You lousy, no good, scum sucking son of a b^&(%$ and lunged at me with the knife. I sidestepped it and he went right past me. It only took security a few minutes to show up and escort him off Ford property.
He was terminated by Ford. Then the UAW grievance process kicked in. I was taken to the personnel office and grilled by the UAW and by Ford. How long was the knife? Did he actually stab you, or just threaten you? How do you know he was trying to stab you? How do you know he didn’t just slip on the floor and fall toward you? How much fat do you have on your belly? Isn’t it true that if he had stabbed you the knife was not long enough to penetrate the fat? Why are you lying? Who else can verify that he actually tried to stab you? Isn’t it true that you are just trying to get a feather in your cap by getting a man fired?
After more than three months the UAW succeeded in getting the man reinstated, and the disciplinary form pulled from his files. Then I was called into the office. My boss handed me a check. It was for the man who tried to stab me. It was full pay for all the time he was off, plus the estimated overtime that he would have worked had he not been fired. Since I was the man’s foreman, I was instructed to hand him the check. The man man laughed hysterically when I handed him the check, and thanked me for four months off with full pay. He said he had spent it in Florida, fishing. Now he was refreshed and ready to go back to work.