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An open letter to President Obama about the auto industry

By Richard Zowie

The crisis of the Big Three worries me, and that worry is intensified up here in Michigan. Plants are closing and workers are worried they may lose their pensions. People are moving out of Michigan to work elsewhere. When you talk to those who work or who have worked at General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, you learn a lot about how the once-mighty automakers have fallen. There are solutions, but one has to wonder if they’ll be implemented.

A few weeks ago, I went onto the White House’s website and wrote a letter to President Obama suggesting to him things I’ve gathered from talking to various employees. Here’s that letter, expanded from its original form.

Dear Mr. President:

I read with much interest about how GM CEO Rick Wagoner has stepped down, as part of your condition for GM receiving more government loans. I have family members and friends who are current and retired Big Three employees. There are also acquaintances who have been bought out.

If you really want the Big Three to attain financial solvency again, I suggest instructing upper management to meet with the line workers and encourage the line workers to speak freely about the problems they face. One source (whom I won’t identify since the Big Three generally prefer to communicate with the media only through their public affairs agents) tells me whenever someone from corporate visits a plant, it’s a glorified “dog and pony” show where only certain workers are authorized to speak. My concern is that the Big Three’s problems have evolved from simple to complex because the simple solutions have been ignored for far too long.

Why is Toyota becoming the world’s number-one automaker? Again, this source has told me Toyota’s management works closely with its employees, finds out the problems and gets them solved. This is dangerously lacking among the Big Three.

This source also has told me how his plant spent tens of thousands of dollars preparing for such a visit, but when the plant manager was asked for substantially less than that to acquire desperately-needed tools, they were told there were no funds for it.

The next time the heads of GM, Ford and Chrysler meet with you, here are some questions I humbly ask you to answer:

1. I understand there have been times when a worker retires but no effort is made to train anyone to do their job once they’re gone-even though their job is still active at the plant. Why?

2. Why does your company keep hiring into management people who don’t know how to do their current job or people who know almost nothing about the auto industry?

3. Whenever you visit a plant, why not just show up unannounced and encourage anyone to speak-WITHOUT fear of reprisal or job loss?

I realize that support from the United Auto Workers is important for you, but the U.A.W. is hardly blameless in this huge mess. While you’re at it, Mr. President, you should have U.A.W. president Ron Gettelfinger in your office and ask him this question: Why does the union work so hard to protect a worker who was fired because they were lazy or useless?

Here’s why I’d really like you ask Gettelfinger that question. One glaring problem I’m told about is how many useless employees the Big Three have; firing them is very difficult since they’ll file a union grievance and be allowed to stay. If such an employee makes even $20 per hour, multiply that per year and per employee and you have a LOT of dead money.

Please take my suggestions under consideration, Mr. President. The U.S. auto industry is failing and there’s not much bright light at the end of the tunnel. Both sides are at fault.

Thank you for your time.

Very respectfully,

Richard P. Zowie
Birch Run, Michigan

Richard Zowie grew up in Beeville but currently works as a writer in Michigan. His blog is at http://www.fromatozowie.wordpress.com, and his e-mail is at richardzowie@gmail.com.

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