Surviving General Motors with Multiple Sclerosis: Questions of conscience morality and Leadership

Surviving General Motors with Multiple Sclerosis: Questions of conscience morality and Leadership

by Zohar McMillan


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781425994891
Publisher: Authorhouse
Publication date: 04/28/2007
Pages: 164
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.50(d)

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By ZOHAR MCMILLAN AuthorHouse Copyright © 2007 ZOHAR MCMILLAN
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4259-9489-1

Chapter One I am the youngest child of five, born in 1956 to my parents' first marriage. I have two brothers and two sisters. Times were hard for black America and the civil rights movement had yet to begin. My father left the family when I was about three. My mother had no alternative but to raise five children with minute support. It was a different era and women could virtually do nothing without a husband. We were poor, as were most of my neighbors.

Although we were poor, I did not realize it. We had the richness of family. We would take long walks through the neighborhoods as a family. We thought it was an adventure but I think it was my mom's way to tire us out, so she could get some well needed rest. Mom kept an immaculate house with five children to tend. Mom was also a great cook and she had the gift of turning shoe leather tender and pleasing to the palate.

We lived in a family friendly neighborhood where everyone looked out for everyone else. Kids were respectful of adults and feared their parents' wrath. There was no abuse in our home, but raising black males during that era, parents needed to be strict. My mother had two black sons to nurture to adulthood. I have always felt the strict discipline was to ensure that children respect the law, in order to keep them alive. Detroit police had a division called STRESS: Stop the robberies, Enjoy safe streets. It was a very controversial division and many black males did not fair well under it. They were often shot and killed. Eventually, STRESS disbanded.

I grew up on the west side of Detroit. My siblings were all in school and I could not wait until it was my time. When I was finally able to attend school, I loved it. Schoolwork came natural to me. Math was my favorite subject and still is. We lived in the heart of the city, when the 1967 riots broke out. There was looting and burning going on. My mother restricted her kids from leaving the front porch. My brothers had paper routes but there were no papers for delivery. From an early age, with no male role model, my mother taught my brothers responsibility. I remember when mom heard a noise in the middle of the night. Fearfully, she peered out the front window. A spotlight hit her in the face. The National Guards were driving down our street in tanks. Thankfully, she avoided being mistaken for a sniper and shot. It was frightening time for all of us.

We moved to a new area just after the riots. My mother remarried and Papa as I call him is a wonderful man. He treated my mom well and looked out for his kids. We felt safe and secure with papa around. We were one of few black families in the area. Our neighbors were nice although they did have their Little Black Sambo mascot. The stereotype was designed as a lawn watering device and held the hose slowly as it jerked back and forth. The family I grew to love and the mom taught me how to knit. Considering this was the late sixties, I was fortunate not to experience too many racial incidents. The Jewish kids had it just as bad. I remember walking home from school and a crowd was ahead of me. When I caught up to the crowd, I witnessed a deplorable act. A young Jewish girl was tortured by the kids because of her features. Her nose was larger than the other kids and they mocked her. I will always remember the tears streaming down her face as she tried to escape. I ran before they turned on me. Her family moved shortly after that incident.

In school, I pursued the college prep courses. I intended to become a Certified Public Accountant. I was shy and tried to overcome this by playing sports. I played tennis and basketball as extra curricular activities. Basketball was harder but I excelled at tennis and was All-City in 1974. I experienced my first major illness in September 1974 with a bout of Mononucleosis. I missed the first two weeks of school, which devastated me. I lived for school. I recovered and tried to play basketball again despite my doctors warning regarding my enlarged spleen stemming from the disease. My coach kept me on the team although she was aware of the risks but I was determined not to quit. She allowed me a little playing time towards the end of the season.

I graduated from high school January 1975 at the top of my class. I had planned to attend college but I desperately needed a job. I won a 4 year scholarship to a major university. My parents moved south two weeks after I graduated. I was now an adult and needed a means to support myself. The scholarship did not include room and board and my parents could not afford to pay for it. I began school and applied at GM to work as a sewer. I had 4 years of sewing experience while in high school. My high school principal wrote a letter on my behalf to provide verification of my sewing skills. I entered the plant in April of 1976 during the week of Easter. There were approximately thirteen of us in my group escorted by a General Foreman. This supervisor instructed me to stand off to the side, while other supervisors chose the workers they wanted to work for them.

I was the only black person in this group of new hires. The General Foreman proceeded to escort me to an area commonly known as "Behind the Wall". There I met my supervisor Mr. Littleton and it quickly became evident to me that my new supervisor failed to share my joy of landing this job. He placed me on a job called tack-down. It was simple enough. You marry the material to the foam and sew around the edges to hold it in place. The rule of thumb was to make 80% of production, within 3 days, to keep your job. Tuesday, I was already at 80% within the first half of the day. The supervisor moved me. He then placed me on one needle design sew. I worked this job, the rest of Tuesday and Wednesday. Once again, I was making 80%. On Thursday, when I reported to work, he moved me again. This time he placed me on a job called pay-point. I saw the regular operators with years of experience looking in a perplexed fashion at each other. Pay-point was the hardest job in the department and even the most experienced operators had difficulty with it. They were horrified for me.

The day following my date of hire, there was a pretty white woman around my age who also joined the department. She took long breaks, long lunches and did virtually nothing. My supervisor smiled and laughed with her. Friday was Good Friday. We were off for the holiday. When I returned to work on Monday, I, was once again, placed on the pay-point job. A little later, my supervisor told me to accompany him. He said something to the newly hired checker (the employees who deliver the work to the operators). The checker MY Struggle Against General Motors, Inequality & Multiple Sclerosis 5 looked panicked as Mr. Littleton continued to speak with him. Then I saw the checker pick up the yellow production standard cards, write something on them, and hand them to Mr. Littleton.

Mr. Littleton then presented me to Labor Relations with these cards. He wanted to lay me off "Unable to perform job available." He and Labor Relations had an argument and I heard the Labor Rep say he was getting tired of this. Of course, I had no idea what he meant, but I was soon to find out. Apparently, the newly hired checker had written up production cards on me, which did not give an accurate accounting of my week's work. My work pieces were used to fatten up the other girl's count. As for the pieces I had done on pay-point, the checker had not been near me in hours although he produced a card stating I had only sewn 7 pieces per hour, which was total fabrication. In the end, Labor Relations had to do what the supervisor wanted and I lost my job. It was the beginning of a long education.

They had the audacity to ask me to sign a paper stating, "I agree this is the reason for this separation." Of course, I did not sign the statement. I have been cautious about what I sign ever since. I went home and cried myself to sleep. The next morning I woke up and darted off to college still very upset. I made up my mind, in school, that I was not going to just sit back and accept this type of injustice. After school, I rode the bus to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and filed a complaint. They began an investigation into the matter.

Since I had only worked approximately one week, I was not entitled to union representation. Unbeknownst to me, the women in my department, black and white, had summoned their union rep. These wonderful women were appalled at the company continuing to allow this situation to manifest. These women agreed to testify for me. As it turned out, I was the fourth black person in four weeks that Mr. Littleton had fired. After I filed my complaint, Mr. Littleton ended up on medical leave. Upon his return, my Civil Rights investigator visited him. While speaking with my rep, a black man, Mr. Littleton said inappropriate and disrespectful things to him.

I lost six months seniority and GM reinstated me without back pay or lost time. In the land of the factory, seniority means everything. Lay-off s for extremely long periods are sometimes your burden to bear, just by your last name when you have the same date as another worker.

The hourly personnel director, Mr. Springfield, said to me upon my return,

"You're the one who was discriminated against."

I replied, "Yes."

"Well, we don't want that now, do we?" I spent the next thirteen years at Fisher Body without too many incidents, considering the era.

There are always going to be some people who look for a reason to hate and blame others for their problems. This usually stems, in my opinion, from low self-worth, fear and ignorance. The next significant altercation with management came at the hands of a black woman. I was working one particular day and two important members of our bargaining committee were on the floor. They were looking for someone to represent the people for the day. The regular rep was in meetings and they had to have someone on the floor. They spotted me and thought that I might be able to, at least give it a shot and I concurred.

This became my introduction to the workings of the union and the prelude to my first write-up. I thank my union reps, at this location, for teaching me how to handle myself under stressful and intimidating circumstances. This supervisor was a tall, large, religious woman. She towered over all the women in the department. Her very size was frightening. I was young, naive and she had daughters my age. She wanted to advance in the company, and decided she would go after the union rep. Everyone knows in a fight if you take out the leader first, the rest of the pack will probably take flight.

My regular committee person was off for the day and, and as her alternate, I was scheduled to work the floor in her absence. The supervisor had 24 hours advanced notice that I was to work the floor and she was to relieve me of my duties after two hours. When the time came for me to work the floor, I asked her for my replacement. She became angry and turned the line off to curse me out. She had an audience for her performance. If you work in a factory, you know that the assembly line is never turned off , unless there is an emergency. She expected me to back up, but I stood up to her, which surprised her. The rest of the employees were watching in astonishment. She was so angry she clenched her fist. It seemed as if she wanted to hit me but I had the drill motor I was working with in my hand. She turned the line back on, sent my relief person over and made me her pet project after that.

Every day I worked, she watched me like a hawk. She tried to find errors in any job I was doing. I was a relief person, which meant I had to be able to handle all the jobs. She would disperse me to different jobs and constantly check my work. It took her about a month, but she was finally able to frame me for "Careless Workmanship." When she presented me to Labor Relations, they left my case pending one day because they failed to believe her. Again, the supervisor insisted upon disciplinary action, and Labor had to abide by her wishes. After I received my write up, I passed it around the line for all the girls to see. This "Good Christian" supervisor as she referred to herself, could not believe I was letting the other workers see it. They knew it was a total fabrication and I had nothing to hide.

I wrote grievances against her and when the time came to settle these grievances, I was able to attend the meeting with my Zoneman. The superintendent, Jason Eastman, at first berated me. He even told me that although I could not discipline them, they could discipline me. Jason was fair in his dealings with me.

I asked Jason, "You know Christine MacKenzie don't you?"

He nodded, "Yes."

"You know she won't lie for either one of us then."

He knew this to be true and said he would send for her. At this point, the supervisor started stammering asking him to ask someone else who was a friend of hers. He knew then she was lying and told her she was playing games, not me.

He said to me, "Let me get this garbage off your record right now. I knew something was wrong when I saw Careless Workmanship and began to laugh when I saw the write up." He removed the write-up from my record. I never received another discipline for 16 years until I arrived at the Pontiac Assembly Center.

Chapter Two As I look back, I can see signs of Multiple Sclerosis in hindsight. In 1978 and 1979, I experienced periods where my right thigh would burn for no apparent reason. Packing my thigh in ice, did not help, the fire was within. After a few days, the fire would dissipate. These incidents would occur at different intervals over the years. I had bouts of weakness and fatigue without explanation. I was young and refused to dwell on it, at the time.

I was married in September 1982. I lived a diverse life and my wedding was a combination of people from different backgrounds. We decided to start a family two years later. November 7, 1985 a beautiful little girl was born 10 weeks premature, weighing 2lbs 15 oz due to a blood clot choking off the oxygen to her. Her first 5 weeks of life were in the neonatal intensive care unit. After we brought her home, I began experiencing strange physical symptoms.

When I would stand up, my legs sometimes buckled under me and I would fall to the floor. One morning I rose to take a shower. When I stepped out of bed, my legs failed me and I collapsed to the floor. I crawled back in bed and waited another ten minutes before I attempted again with the same results. Finally, I was able to stand and proceeded to take my shower.

I told my husband I was going to the hospital. He wanted to accompany me, but it was cold and I refused to take the baby out. I made it to the hospital and parked in the emergency lot. When I exited my vehicle, my sea legs returned and I fell to the cold ground. Scared and frustrated I crawled back in the car. I attempted a second time with the same results. Eventually, I made it inside the hospital. The emergency doctor could only diagnose a bladder infection and prescribed antibiotics. Who was aware? Multiple Sclerosis was not a common diagnose then.

I returned to work in January 1986 to an area known as J-Doors. The supervisor was a short feisty man. Fred was his name and he was quite a character.

He would say things to us like "Shit runs downhill and it's going to run all over you."

His other favorite expression was, "When I get through standing on your shoulders, you are going to think I'm ten feet tall."

Fred treated all the black employees poorly and addressed us as "Hey-you." He catered to two white women in my department and treated my partner and me, like garbage. He allowed them to sit at the smoke bench for long intervals. He would laugh with them, smirking at my partner and me because we were loaded with work. He should have distributed some to them to meet production standards. In reality, he was not hurting anyone but the company. Our local union was strong and tried to get justice for everyone regardless of color. After the union presented a letter to the area superintendent, his abusive behavior began to mollify.


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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I worked for a government agency made things as miserable as possible to get me to quit, people do not do the right thing, just because there ls american with disability act,@ iit doesnt mean company will comply trust no one!