General Motors

Overview

This book portrays life inside a General Motors factory in the 1970's. Have you ever wondered why or how 'the lazy hourly workers' came to be that way? This myth is debunked throughout the book. Anyone who has ever worked hourly for General Motors, the big three, or any large manufacturing company will enjoy the experiences provided in this book. They will find themselves reminiscing in the past about their own work experiences. Anyone who has had a close relative that worked in a factory will want to read this ...
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General Motors: Life Inside The Factory: One Blue-Collar Worker's Journey

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Overview

This book portrays life inside a General Motors factory in the 1970's. Have you ever wondered why or how 'the lazy hourly workers' came to be that way? This myth is debunked throughout the book. Anyone who has ever worked hourly for General Motors, the big three, or any large manufacturing company will enjoy the experiences provided in this book. They will find themselves reminiscing in the past about their own work experiences. Anyone who has had a close relative that worked in a factory will want to read this book to get a feel of what their loved ones went through while earning a living.

The book comes to the stunning conclusion that General Motor's top executives wasted a tremendous amount of human resources over the years. They looked down upon the factory workers and treated them as if they were 'disposable employees.' They never attempted to tap into the vast and almost incalculable amount of brainpower available because they simply dismissed their classification 'hourly worker' as useless. They treated them as if they were the source of all of their problems. They never even considered that with four hundred thousand hourly employees they might have had the resources right in front of them to help in solving the vast and complex problems that exist in the every day world of work.

In today's competitive manufacturing environment Lean Manufacturing has stepped into the forefront for improvement. One of the two pillars of Lean manufacturing is respect for the worker. If you're an executive leader, manager or a student of lean you'll want to read this book to see how not to do it. One theory of management says that if you don't like what you see around you go look in a mirror first because your workforce is a reflection of your thinking and actions.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781456716745
  • Publisher: AuthorHouse
  • Publication date: 12/30/2010
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Table of Contents

Contents

The First Ninety Days....................1
New Hire....................1
Wages and Benefits....................4
Shop Rat....................5
Working the Press Line....................6
Supervisor's Worst Nightmare....................9
Product Handler....................10
The Know-It-Alls....................14
Deer Hunting....................15
October 1973 Oil Embargo....................21
1974–1976 The Production Years....................23
National Highway Transportation Act....................23
First Layoff....................24
Frame Plant....................26
Flashback: How I Discovered I Needed Glasses....................27
Flashback: Jungle Training....................28
Second Shift....................31
Working on the Welding Fixtures....................33
Flashback: Drugs....................36
Production Injuries....................42
Running Piss-Poor Quality....................45
Flashback: General Motors Quality....................48
1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo....................51
Car Wreck....................53
Fixture Wars....................54
Education....................55
Flashback: Education....................56
Flashback: Flint Childhood....................60
Mott Community College....................79
Flashback: The Nun's Assignment....................79
1976–1979 Apprenticeship Years....................83
Apprenticeship....................83
Political Parties....................85
Not-So-Quick Press Line Changes....................88
The Big Decision....................89
Louie....................91
Working in the West Plant....................92
Safety....................94
Supervisor Bob....................98
Practical Jokes....................100
Christmas Luncheon....................102
Car Heist....................102
Third Shift....................103
Machine Room....................107
Tool Crib Assignment....................111
1979....................113
Completions....................113
Second Shift....................114
Union Contractual Issues....................127
Lines of Demarcation....................127
Paragraph 71....................129
More Economics....................130
B-15 Draw Press Installation....................134
Per-Diem Supervisor Training....................137
Flashback: Marine Corps Leadership Training....................140
Flashback: Benevolent Dictators....................147
Millwrights Build a Monorail to Blueprint Specifications....................148
Charlie....................150
Ed....................151
Per-Diem Supervisor—Finally on My Own....................151
Real Estate License....................158
Flashback: United Autoworkers' Family History....................162
Bell Curve....................164
Quality of Work Life Seminar....................165
Jointness (Participation?)....................167
Lou Tice Seminar: New-Age Thinking....................169
Bachelor's Degree....................174
Permanent Supervisor....................180
Who's to Blame?....................187
Lessons Learned: If Provided the Opportunity, What Would I Say to the Chairman of GM?....................199
Author's Note....................209
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First Chapter

General Motors: Life Inside The Factory

One Blue-Collar Worker's Journey
By Richard Thomas Gall

AuthorHouse

Copyright © 2010 Richard Thomas Gall
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4567-1672-1


Chapter One

The First Ninety Days

New Hire

It all started in September 1973. I had recently been discharged from the United States Marine Corps after completing a three-year hitch. I went home and started school at the local community college, but three weeks later, I realized I wasn't ready for school. I had a very poor academic record from high school, and at that time, college was too big of a step for me. I dropped out of college after this very short beginning. I felt confused and alone. I found myself longing for the routine and certainty of the Marine Corps.

So not knowing what to do, I went to the unemployment office in Flint, Michigan, and signed up for work. A couple of days later, I received an offer to hire into General Motors as an hourly employee. With nothing else seemingly available, I accepted the offer and thus began my thirty-five-year auto-industry career. I hired into Chevrolet Flint Frame and Stamping. Flint Stamping is located in a complex of three large General Motors plants. In addition to Flint Stamping, the Flint Truck Assembly and the Flint Engine plants are located at the corners of Bristol Road and Van Slyke, at the very southern edge of the city of Flint.

My first morning on the job is a blur for me. I attended some sort of new-hire orientation that lasted for a couple of hours. Then we were walked out onto the factory floor—or I should say, down to the factory floor, as we were on the mezzanine level of the plant and took the down escalator to the floor.

What a shock I received as I rode down that escalator to the shop floor for the first time! I couldn't believe my eyes. The first thing I heard was the deafening roar of the line presses stamping out the sheet metal parts. In the orientation, they had warned us about the high decibel level of noise in the plant and told us we would be subject to discipline if we didn't wear the earplugs the company provided for us. I was thankful for the earplugs I was now wearing.

I could also feel the tremendous heat generated by all of the industrial equipment operating as far as my eyes could see. It seemed like an endless sea of men and machinery. There were miles of monorails from one end of the plant to the other. Never in my wildest imaginings would I have pictured the shop to look like this. As we reached the floor level, there was a guy who looked at us, laughed, and said, "You'll be so-o-r-r-y!" Somehow, we were handed off to our foreman to be given our first job assignments. My first supervisor was a guy named Joe.

My first job assignment was to operate a small spot welder. This is a stand-alone machine that assembles and prepares subassemblies for further use later on. My training consisted of the following: "Take this bracket out of the gondola and place it in the welder. Place the second piece of metal over the first, and then put your hands up here, one on each of the two palm buttons. Continue holding the palm buttons until the machine has completed its entire cycle. Remove the welded assembly out of the machine, and place it in the finished-parts gondola." The foreman left after I ran a couple of pieces correctly and after warning me about poor quality and not running fast enough—so much for my training on the floor!

Left alone, I began to run as many parts as I could as fast as I could. I really needed this job. A short time later, another hourly employee came up to me and told me to slow down; there was a set amount that could be run in one hour's time, and I was in danger of violating the agreed-upon standards. I continued to run as instructed by my supervisor while I eyed this guy and sized him up. He was fairly tall but had a rotund stomach and looked to be very out of shape. Remember, I was just six weeks out of the Marine Corps infantry and was highly trained not to take any crap from anybody. This included navy swabbies, army doggies, and out-of-shape production employees. I thought about how I could take this guy down: first, a swift kick to the groin area to start things out and then a couple of quick punches to the head and then maybe a knee to the face as he faltered. This was how I had been trained and what I had been brainwashed into thinking over the past three years. It all came back to me very quickly, in an instant. I was reacting, not thinking. However, in our orientation (which I think was one of the first of its kind in the plant), labor relations went over the "shop rules," one of which was no fighting allowed. So I thanked the gentleman and slowed way down, praying that my foreman would understand when he came back.

When the foreman showed up again, he wasn't interested in the parts I had run. We had an emergency, and he needed me to fill in on the press line. He told me that because I had short hair, he was going to give me a "good" job. I was placed on the press line that stamped out tie bars for the 1974 Chevrolet Impala. A tie bar is a piece of sheet metal that goes on the front end of a vehicle. It used to go between the hood and the grille. Nowadays, this part is incorporated into the hood itself.

My job turned out to be painting die goop all around the perimeter of the part as it came out of what I think was the trim die. So I had a bucket of goop and a long-handled brush, and I painted this gooey substance around the perimeter of the entire part. Poor Joe, though, because if he could have seen how I anticipated having my hair long in about six months, he wouldn't have given me the "good" job. I hated my Marine Corps haircut; it was high and tight in an era of long hair. When I was home on leave in 1972, I was mildly harassed in a local bar because of my short hair, and I was determined to grow it long enough to have a ponytail. I wanted to fit back into society.

I don't remember how my first day ended, but for the start of my second day, I knew I had to "punch in" my time card to start my shift. The words I remember my foreman saying at the end of the shift were, "Don't be late. It's a violation of the shop rules." I became very nervous, thinking that I might not be able to find my way to my department in the morning. Then a brilliant idea hit me. I noticed there was a set of train tracks right near the time clock. Feeling good about my discovery, I left the two-million-square-foot facility for the first time. I thought it would be a snap to return quickly to my department time clock location first thing in the morning.

When I got to my car in the parking lot, I realized I hadn't anticipated the shift-change activity. The second shifters were still coming in, and the first shifters were leaving. There were well over four thousand hourly employees working at the plant, round the clock on three shifts. We had full employment at the time. The parking lot was a nightmare, and I learned that when the hourly employees left the plant, you'd better get out of the way because all hell broke loose. There was the revving of engines, the squealing of tires, the curses, and the shouts to move in a quagmire of gridlock. After being under lock and key all day, the animals had been let free. That first day, I sat in my car and waited for the parking lot to clear before I ventured safely out. Later, I was no different in revving my engine and squealing my tires. I was finally free, and this animal was in control of his life again.

The next morning, I arrived at the plant forty-five minutes early. That left me plenty of time to walk to the time clock and get punched in. I followed the train tracks for what seemed like forever, but I couldn't locate my department. I was starting to feel uncomfortable, but I still had twenty minutes or so left to get to my time clock. Then I discovered another set of train tracks in the plant. Now things were looking up; I could find my way. Maybe this was the right way to go. I followed this set of tracks for what seemed like an eternity, but I still couldn't locate my department. There was now less than three minutes to go before punch in. Just great, my second day in the shop, and I'm going to be late. Holy Crap!, I thought. I had been a sergeant in the Marine Corps. I was always the responsible one. I was always in charge, and I took care of everything. We always said in the marines, "Don't be a worthless piece of shit," and that was how I felt at that moment. I was a "shit bird," just like all of the other guys who couldn't get themselves squared away in the Marine Corps! We marines never desired to be a shit bird.

Another employee must have seen the panic on my face because he asked if he could help me. I told him I was looking for the time clock for my department and it was located by the train well. He told me there were three main train wells and a couple of smaller ones located throughout the plant. He said that you had to go by the column locations. I had no idea what he was talking about. He told me to look up and see the markings on each of the lamb's-wool green ( that's the General Motors paint color) column posts. I looked up, and sure enough, a letter from the alphabet and a number marked each one. He asked me which department I was assigned to. I told him department 176. He was kind enough to walk me to my department and to the time clock. Waiting there for me was the foreman, and he wasn't very happy. The kind soul explained the situation to the foreman, and the foreman told me he'd let me go this time but never to be late again. Thank you, kind soul, who helped me so long ago.

Wages and Benefits

I hired into General Motors on a Friday morning. I worked ten hours that day and ten hours on Saturday. For Friday, I received two hours of overtime pay. At General Motors, for every hour of overtime I worked, I was paid one and one half hours. So, for the two hours of overtime I worked on Friday, I was paid for a total of three hours. I worked ten hours on Saturday and received time and one half all day. I was paid for fifteen hours for Saturday. My first week, I was paid for a total of twenty-seven hours for two days of work.

Now at this point, my older brother was looking down his nose at me for working in the shop. He reminded me of one of my father's favorite sayings while we were growing up, which was, "Is that all you want to be, a sweeper in the shop?" And there I was, an hourly production worker—a sweeper if you will—and he was letting me know of his disapproval. When I brought home my first paycheck, we compared them ours. I made way more per hour than he did, and for two days of work in the shop, my paycheck was larger than his for a full forty hours' worth of work. He was working in downtown Flint for a company that backed up hospital records on a computer during the night. Later, my older brother hired into the plant, but he never got his ninety days in and was never called back. In addition to my hourly wages, which I think were around five dollars and thirty-two cents an hour, I received full medical benefits after thirty days. In those days, we didn't pay a penny for any health-care services. Prescription drugs were covered in full. I started accumulating pension and vacation credits as well. So all in all, it was not too bad of a start for me financially.

Shop Rat

Sometime in the fall of 1973, I went to a friend of a friend's new house in Flushing, Michigan. It was a beautiful three-bedroom, tri-level home his grandmother helped him purchase. He and his wife were throwing a housewarming party. They didn't have much furniture because they bought as much house as they could afford, and they were going to let inflation pay the mortgage. Inflation was on the rise in 1973, and it was a very popular act to purchase as much house as you could.

I was having a pretty good time at the party, and I began talking to the owner's wife. She was some sort of medical technician, and he was a new-car salesman. She asked me where I was working, and I told her at Chevrolet Flint Stamping. Well, the cold look of disgust that came across her face startled me. It seemed as if everyone and everything at the party went into super-slow motion. All noise stopped, and you could hear a pin drop. She stared at me coldly and said loud enough so everyone could hear, "You are a shop rat!" I could have crawled into the closest hole I could find, but there was nothing available. I was extremely embarrassed and nodded my head weakly. I left the party shortly thereafter with a severe blow to my morale. It seemed everybody in Genesee County was down on us shop rats.

I soon realized that I liked the shop. I liked what I was doing, and I liked the comforts my job provided. Now granted, I wanted and desired to better myself, but for the time being, I was in a good place. Yes, I admit it. I was a Flint, General Motors, purebred, shop rat, 100 percent certified!

Working the Press Line

A short while later, I was transferred to the press line that produced the right-hand fender outer panel for the 1974 Chevrolet pickup truck. I must've been assigned to the third or fourth press into the line. A typical press line consists of several pieces of complex machinery. All the machines are located in a straight line. There are many operations. The largest machines are called stamping presses. These machines house the tooling and provide the motion that performs the work of making a stamped production part. A stamping press completes one cycle in which the ram of the press travels down to the bottom of its stroke and then returns back up to the top of its stroke. Presses come in all shapes and sizes. On my fender line, the first press was the draw. It is the largest press in the line and can produce the greatest tonnage. The larger the tonnage, the greater work the press is rated to perform. As the draw press hits bottom and the die does its work, the floor shakes and vibrates on the massive hitting action required to draw the sheet metal into shape. The next press in line is the trim press. It also has a high tonnage capacity. After a blank receives its initial form from the draw operation, it is called a panel. The trim operation removes the excess steel no longer required from the panel. After the trim operation, there are three or four additional operations that complete the panel. The results of these operations fold (called a flange) and pierce holes in the panel.

The tools that perform the work are called dies. The dies are mounted in the presses. As a press cycles, the dies complete their work. Dies are complicated tools that need a great deal of attention, especially with outer panels, such as hoods and fenders.

When a panel has cycled through a press, an "iron hand" removes it. This mechanical device is an air cylinder mounted in the back of the press. It has a jaw attached to the cylinder. As the cylinder is driven forward by air pressure, the jaw clamps down on the panel and holds it tightly. The cylinder is then moved backward and takes the panel with it. At the precise moment the air is released from the cylinder, the jaw drops the panel onto a conveyor belt. Between each press, there is a conveyor with some type of moving belt on it. The conveyor belt transfers the panel up to the next press in the line. The operator then manually loads the panel in the press and holds down the two palm buttons, which cause the press to cycle or turn over. This is repeated until a panel works its way through the entire press line. (At Flint Stamping in 1973, this was the typical line setup. In the stamping arena, there are many variations of line setups.)

The stamping presses I ran at Chevrolet Flint Frame and Stamping were 1950s vintage. They were about twenty years old when I hired into the plant. They had not been maintained very well. Every hour, it seemed as if something wasn't working right. The line foreman kept a constant vigil on the equipment as we were running production. At the first sign of trouble, he was to alert the various skilled tradesmen to come and take a look at the problem. The tradesmen were hardly ever provided the proper time to make repairs. They were always making quick fixes to get the press line running again; even on weekends, they didn't have time to make things right. They were not allowed to come back after hours to make a proper repair as this was considered too costly to the plant. Most of the tradesmen who babysat the lines became expert at "patch jobs." Rather than install a new hose, we'd just patch the old one. Rather than install a new oil pump, we'd just turn the pressure switch down so the press would continue to run but with improper oil pressure. Rather than repair an oil leak, we'd make an oil catch pan and hose it back to the oil tank. When I got to Flint Stamping in the fall of 1973, the plant consisted of a lot of junk machines that were very unreliable.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from General Motors: Life Inside The Factory by Richard Thomas Gall Copyright © 2010 by Richard Thomas Gall. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2012

    Not great, but good enough.

    Quite a good read. Well written. Explains the inside work of a GM factory during the 70 s and 80 s. The chapters seem to be a little disorganiced though.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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