Jim P. was the hardest working man I have ever known and the UAW made sure he paid a price for it. Jim was not an educated man. In fact, he only made it to 7th grade. Then he had to drop out of school to work the coal mines in Kentucky to help support his family. When he came north to Cincinnati and got a job at the Sharonville Transmission Plant he thought he had died and went to heaven.
At Ford Jim made three times as much as he had ever made in his life. He wanted to give his family things he had never had. Like nice clothes, a television, a nice house to live in, and a good education. So he worked as much overtime as he could get. The trouble was, what “work” meant to Jim was not what “work” meant to the UAW.
“Work” to Jim meant you bust your hump until the quitting bell rings. But that was not how the UAW jobs were designed. The jobs had an eight hour standard. Most of them were machine paced. You would work, and then wait, and then work, and then wait. Sometimes you waited more than you worked. If the machine ran well, you might make your 8 hour standard in 6 hours. Then you did not have to do anything for two hours, because you had made your work standard. You got paid, even though you were not working. This was a concept that Jim could not grasp. His thinking was “if Ford is paying me, I should be working.”
Jim was a repair welder on the toque converter line. When the automatic welder failed to weld properly, the torque converters were shunted to Jim’s repair booth, and he manually welded them. But there were times when no converters were shunted to Jim for, sometimes, three hours. The other repair welders slept, read magazines, or sat with their feet propped up. This did not seem natural to Jim. He was a worker. He was getting paid very well. Yet for hours each day he had no work to do. I was Jim’s boss . He came to me and asked for additonal work to do when no torque converters were being shunted to his repair booth.
I provided Jim with plenty of work, and he seemed happy. But his co workers were not happy at all. Their thinking was if Jim works when there are no shunts, then the boss will want us to work. They had a friendly chat with Jim. But Jim was not convinced that he should not be working if he was getting paid and there was work to do. So he continued on with the extra work I had provided.
The next chat his co workers had with him was not so friendly. If fact, there was shouting, gesturing, name calling, and veiled threats. Jim continued to do the extra work. That was when two UAW committeemen showed up to explain the facts of life to Jim. He was not to work unless he had converters that needed manual repair shunted to his repair booth. Jim came to me and asked who was his boss, me, or the UAW. I told Jim that I was his boss. He went back to work on the additional work that I had given him.
At the end of the shift Jim went to the parking lot and found all four of his tires flattened and his radio aerial broken. The next day he said his wife had gotten threatening phone calls at home, telling her that her kids and home “may not be safe” if her husband continued to be a “scab” at work. When he opened his lunch box he found that someone had deficated on top of his lunch.
After that Jim only repaired the converters that were shunted to him. He did no extra work the many hours when he had no converters to repair. Jim had learned his lesson. He was not very happy, but the UAW was happy, and Jim’s co workers were happy. He had learned that “work” means different things to different people, and that the work ethic that he had learned from a hard life in rural Kentucky was not valuable at all in an auto plant.